“It was like a movie,” Litti Kewkacha shakes his head, remembering the 30-minute window of escape he was offered to Lima airport in the midst of the recent riots in Peru.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
You suspect that Litti Kewkacha, the global gourmand and Academy Chair for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, would have stayed and taken his chances, just to have eaten again at Central where plates groan with incredible biodiversity or at Mil in the vertiginous Andes, from the same team, in a country with one of the world’s most vibrant food scenes, had his family including his one-year-old baby not been with him.
The Ultimate Food Destination Experience
“At Mil, you have to set off around 9.30am. It’s over 3,500 meters above sea level and their team of anthropologists take you through the indigenous terrain meeting tribal people picking up ingredients along the way. And then you sit, eventually, for Virgilio Martínez’ tasting menu. I mean…imagine,” Litti Kewkacha smiles, quickly casting aside bad memories of the unrest in the South American country. “For me, it’s the ultimate food destination experience.”
The Death Of Fine Dining?
Speaking of movies, the recent announcement that Noma, after 20 years of dominating and defining the dining scene, is closing coincided with the post-release hype around The Menu – the claustrophobic black comedy about the final night of an ultra-exclusive restaurant on a remote island. Headlines have been saying all this means the death of fine dining. It’s a question Litti Kewkacha is invested in as Academy Chairman for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants,
“I feel they’ve been trying to kill fine dining for one reason or another for some time. And the movie fed into the thesis,” Litti explains thoughtfully. “And what does ‘fine dining’ mean anyway?” he asks. “Whatever it is, it won’t die. It will take a different form. And that’s what’s fascinating. We’re waiting to see what these geniuses of the food world will do next. But the point of how to sustain a business at the higher echelons of the industry is another question…”
So maybe The Menu isn’t the nail in the coffin for fine dining, but the signal of a sea change away from its excesses. “And for me, and I know for a lot of other foodies, the enjoyable thing about watching The Menu was spotting the reference points – which scene was inspired by which restaurant. The island element and the toxicity seemed to come from Willow’s Inn, a restaurant that was 100 miles north of Seattle. The clapping part seemed to be inspired by Magnus Nilsson’s Faviken, a restaurant created in an 18th century grain storage house 750 kilometers north of Stockholm, where ingredients were sourced, with a few exceptions, from the estates around the restaurant. There, its formidable maître d’ would get the attention of the whole restaurant by clapping the same way,” Litti laughs.
“Rankings And Awards Are A Snapshot”
Central, Virgilio Martínez and Pía León’s flagship restaurant, might be named the best restaurant in the world by the Asia 50’s parent awards, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, this year (it’s currently at #2). And, if it does, Litti says, few people would argue.
But people always argue. Awards and lists do have a habit of stirring up strong opinions. Of accusations of bias. Or complaints about the inequality of the ranking criteria or the voting system. That’s even though the 50 Best organization, for example, even hired an external independent adjudicator to verify its authenticity.
But we do wonder how it’s possible to compare a place like Central or Mil in Peru to Chef Hiroshi Ishida’s Mibu in Tokyo over 15,000km away – a chef who made Ferran Adrià cry and who Litti calls a culinary god.
Authenticity And Tradition Come From Somewhere
“When you travel, you discover more similarities in cuisine than you think,” Litti continues. “When you talk about authenticity or tradition, it always comes from somewhere. My brother Dej [who runs their Kyobar Kyoto-style dessert-only restaurant and Kyo Roll En, their matcha soft-serve restaurant] makes a traditional Thai egg thread dessert into a version that looks like uni. But that dessert actually came from Portugal. And then I was in Hakata, in Fukuoka and there’s a famous pastry store with people queuing up. It was obviously something special being sold there. And I bought it and it’s exactly the same thing!”
And also Litti Kewkacha is at pains to point out that lists and awards, like the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 which will be announced at the end of the month aren’t definitive. “Look, will your experience at a restaurant one place higher than another on the list be more delicious? No. Is a song one place above another on the Billboard charts better? No. It’s a snapshot of sentiment at a moment in time,” he concludes.
“I do think the world is better off with stars and 50 best rankings. You are not going to regret going to any one of the restaurants in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for example. And it’s much more reliable than wandering around choosing by chance,” he smiles finally.
However, Litti Kewkacha’s passion for food is so infectious that you suspect he does wander around Lima or Tokyo or any other place he’s in looking for something good to eat and joining the culinary dots between places as far flung as Portugal and Thailand and Japan.