It was a rough day for New Media Publishing on Tuesday, when The Test Kitchen announced that it is withdrawing from the Eat Out Awards, just two weeks after Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient had announced the same decision from the Eat Out stage, when Chef Chantel Dartnall collected her 9th-ranked Eat Out statue. Both restaurants have sounded gracious in stating that their restaurants are stepping back, to allow younger chefs to get onto the Eat Out Top List.
This is a bizarre announcement by both restaurants, as one does not apply to Eat Out to evaluate one’s restaurant. Judges allegedly visit the restaurants under cover, and Eat Out has already announced that it will evaluate all the best restaurants in our country, in response to the initial announcement of Restaurant Mosaic’s withdrawal. When The Test Kitchen announcement was made on Tuesday morning, Eat Out took most of the day to craft its response, posting a long wordy statement, indicating that the announcement had caught them by surprise, a blah-blah response signalling their panic.
On Social Media platforms it was speculated that there could be more to these announcements than being so generous in their withdrawal. They have not announced withdrawing from any other local or international restaurant awards, surely which should be the ultimate random act of kindness? So, if Eat Out awards the restaurants Top Ten status in 2020, will the Chefs refuse to attend the Awards ceremony to collect their awards? This withdrawal from what is deemed to be the top restaurant recognition in our country, and most directly affects restaurant revenue, is unprecedented. No other local restaurant awards come close to the stature of the Eat Out Awards, the Top 10 List being the most desired restaurant recognition locally. The Test Kitchen had to suffer its number 2 position for the second year running, after having been the number one restaurant for six years prior to that. Restaurant Mosaic has never made it to the number one slot, seen to be deserving by so many restaurant diners, only receiving the number nine rank this year, an insult to the international standing of the restaurant, as demonstrated again in Paris this week, even if it is located in Pretoria, perhaps not the most sexy restaurant location.
Both Chefs Chantel Dartnall and Luke Dale Roberts have achieved international acclaim for their respective restaurants. Just this week Chef Chantal was one of 60 top chefs in the world which were invited to attend the La Liste award ceremony in Paris, Restaurant Mosaic the most highly ranked restaurant in this Top 1000 List in our country, jointly ranked with the Test Kitchen, but the former winning the Country Award. The Test Kitchen is on the highly acclaimed World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, ranked at number 44 earlier this year. Are both chefs throwing their toys out of their cots, being miffed at their poor local Eat Out standing, given their international recognition, it was speculated on Social Media platforms.
Eat Out is a restaurant award, and not a chef award. The withdrawing chefs cannot therefore make space for ‘younger chefs’ by withdrawing from the Eat Out Awards. The Test Kitchen Group has four sister restaurants, which gives them a somewhat better chance of climbing up the Eat Out ladder. Restaurant Mosaic has no benefit in stepping back, other than pure benevolence.
I have been asked to evaluate and react to the Eat Out statement below, which they posted late Tuesday afternoon. The poor grammar in it in part and the nonsensical headline reflects the panic which must have rattled New Media Publishing, a reflection of the stature of Chef Luke Dale Roberts, and the impact of his restaurant’s withdrawal on the credibility, or lack, of the Eat Out Awards. They did not officially react to the withdrawal by Restaurant Mosaic.
Eat Out hints at a new ‘awards model’, but reveals no details of it, stating that details will be revealed in two months from now. Eat Out now urgently wishes to do a survey amongst our top restaurants! Bizarre is that it denies that one cannot pay to apply to get onto the Eat Out list, or that only proudly South African restaurants are considered for the Eat Out Top 10/30 List, deflecting attention from the issue at hand, in my opinion. The desperate attempt by Eat Out to justify the changes they have made in announcing a Top 30 nominees list, as well as counting down the Top 10 list from number 20 downwards, is a desperate attempt to save their reputation.
It was a surprise when the World’s 50 Best Restaurants announced this year that all its past number one Restaurants would go onto a roll of honour Hall of Fame Best of the Best, and would no longer be ranked on the World’s 50 Best list. The motivation was also to make space for newer restaurants. But it was rumoured that the real reason for this request, which came from the a lobby group of top chefs at these award-winning restaurants, was to ‘avoid the decline in reputation that some notable chefs have suffered once they fell from the first place’, according to TIME magazine.
It will be interesting to see if any other hurt and slighted local chefs will announce their withdrawal from Eat Out, and what Eat Out will come up with to restore its credibility, its statement of Tuesday not being good enough to strengthen the now shaky foundation of the Eat Out Awards!
For immediate release
THE EAT OUT RESTAURANT AWARDS CLEAR THE AIR
In the last month two renowned chefs have announced their wish to withdraw from participation in the Eat Out Restaurant Awards. Chefs Chantel Dartnall and Luke Dale Roberts, of Restaurant Mosaic and The Test Kitchen, said they want to make space for the next generation of younger chefs.
Says Managing Director of New Media, Aileen Lamb: “We respect and agree with the sentiment behind the announcements by both chefs, and we appreciate that they value Eat Out sufficiently to take the action they have. We’re in contact with both chefs as their support of Eat Out over many years has been significant, and we wish to work together with them and other stakeholders to grow and develop the industry, and ensure the awards system is fair, inclusive and primed for growth.
“Eat Out has evolved constantly over its 21 years of existence, driven by continuous feedback from the top chefs and restaurants, media, the industry at large and international trends. We continue to look for ways to improve all the time. Two years ago we broadened the scope of the honours to include a Top 20, not just a Top 10, and we announced a short list of 30 nominees, allowing us to honour many more chefs than before. In 2013 we introduced a Rising Stars award that celebrates the next generation of chefs.
“Even earlier in Eat Out’s evolution, we had a roll of honour for restaurants that had appeared on the Top 10 list more than once, to free up space on the list to allow new talent to shine.
“We remain ready to collaborate and to listen to the industry. Over the last six months we have researched local awards models and been in conference with several international awards bodies to ensure we make decisions that are primed for the growth of the whole industry. We’ve evaluated their successes – and failings – to arrive at a suitable local and inclusive model that gives chefs and restaurants the honour they deserve. The goal is a model that embraces more of the industry, celebrates and encourages innovation, and acknowledges excellence without ranking it in numbers.
“This will form the basis of our new awards model. We have almost completed our criteria and mechanism modelling, which will go out to the industry in the coming months for broader input.
“The announcements from chefs Chantel Dartnall and Luke Dale Roberts have fast-tracked this process and we will be launching feedback sessions and an inclusive process with the industry over the next two months. This starts today with a survey that has been sent to all restaurants in SA. Our aim is to announce the new model early in 2020 as we begin judging for the new year.
“A critical element of the Awards, which will be retained in the new model, is that they are not based on restaurants entering, being nominated, or paying to be included. The Awards echo international systems that use anonymous judges, who visit unannounced and pay for themselves in full.”
There have also been comments made about the Awards focusing on South African cuisine only, which is an inaccuracy Eat Out wishes to clear immediately. “The Awards are in no way focused on restaurants that serve predominantly South African cuisine, as you can see from this year’s list of top 30 restaurants, whose menus reflect any number of global influences. While Eat Out is proudly South African, the judging criteria for the Awards rest on innovation, creativity and excellence, no matter what the cuisine.”
Lamb adds: “At the heart of it all, over the past 21 years of Eat Out we believe we have both facilitated and provided a significant platform to support the extraordinary growth in the SA restaurant world. We understand the incredible pressures in the kitchens of the top restaurants and we will continue to support and facilitate the growth, health and innovation of our incredible industry in SA.
“Our aim is to be as inclusive and supportive of excellence as possible. We will continue on this journey with the industry we are so passionate about, and we invite and encourage direct feedback and collaboration to ensure Eat Out continues to shine a light on the very best talent South Africa has to offer. A structured industry outreach is planned for early 2020 but comments can be sent now email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein