Sure, it was a little disjointed. With livestreams in three places, Bangkok, Macau and Tokyo, rather than a room full of contenders, the celebrations turned to encouraging claps for anyone announced who wasn’t in attendance. But there was a real buzz when street food royalty Jay Fai was recognized at #47, when Chef Ton’s restaurants Ledu and Nusara both appeared in the top ten, when Blue by Alain Ducasse debuted at #25, and when Supaksorn Jonsiri’s Sorn soared to the dizzy heights of number 2.
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Plus there were the teams from Singapore’s Cloudstreet (at number 44) – and Asia’s best pastry chef, Maira Yeo – and Masque Mumbai, best restaurant in India and at #21 on the list and many others in the Aksra Theater King Power.
Here are ten things we learned at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2022 which were celebrating their tenth anniversary.
It’s Fun At The Top
You might imagine Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants to be all fussy, fine-dining restaurants. But the winner, Den, in Tokyo, is famous for its creative kaiseki and for serving their Dentucky Fried Chicken – chicken wings that have been stuffed with rice and ginko – in a box that mimics KFC’s. Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa has said his main objective is to leave guests with a big smile on their faces, which he clearly achieved with the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards judges. At Den, you might even catch sight of Chef Hasegawa’s chihuahua padding around the restaurant.
Dreams Can Come True
At Sorn, Supaksorn Jonsiri explained that lots of his ideas come in a fuzzy dream state at the end of the day at the ‘Space To Think’ talks before the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Or first thing in the morning. Then, he frantically sends off his ideas by messenger to the long-suffering team at Sorn to turn into their Southern-style Thai cuisine at a restaurant now recognized as the best in Thailand. Dreams really can come true.
It Was An Iconic Year
Besides celebrating a gradual return to normality with the awards held with many of the participants at the Pullman King Power Bangkok, the Asia Best 50 Restaurants Awards 2022 also took time out to pay respect to two icons. First there was Chef’s Table star Jeong Kwan, the 64-year-old Baekyangsa Temple-based Buddhist nun “spreading the gospel of Korean temple cuisine” whose international influence belies the fact that she has never owned a restaurant. Then there was rapturously received Jay Fai, who caused some attendees to do a double take, as she’s rarely seen outside Baan Jay Fai, and without her iconic goggles. Jay Fai first opened her hawker stall in the ‘80s where she still cooks at the seven-table restaurant, six days a week. And now Baan Jay Fai is #47 on the list.
It’s A Family Affair
In cuisine, to create something exciting and new doesn’t require chefs to renounce the past. Many of the best restaurants in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2022 list pay tribute to past generations. Chef Ton’s Nusara is named after his grandma – who he proudly posted a tribute to after the awards. Baan Tepa was created in a house that goes back three generations to Chef Tam Chudaree Debhakam grandmother, Lady Suwaree Debhakam. And at Den, Tokyo, Chef Hasegawa credits the bento boxes his geisha mother brought home as his culinary inspiration. At Odette, which won the Art Of Hospitality Award, Chef Julien Royer has said he owes “everything that I am to my family, especially my grandmother, Odette.” And Supaksorn Jonsiri’s grandmother ran Baan Ice, a southern-style family restaurant that he took over before opening Sorn. And then there was Chef Prin from Samrub Samrub Thai who attended the awards with his baby harnessed safely to his chest, a future star of the list?
Vietnam Is Out But Not Down
There was some dismay across the industry in Vietnam when T.U.N.G Dining disappeared from the 100 this year, and Anan Saigon restaurant, named best restaurant in Vietnam in 2021 at #39, slipped to #65. But the Asia 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2022 panel showed they still have an eye on the country by inviting Anan Saigon’s Peter Cuong Franklin to take part in the ‘Space To Think Panel’ alongside World Gourmet Award’s chef of 2021 and head chef of Singapore’s Lolla, Johanne Siy and Tam Chudaree Debhakam from Baan Tepa, a place where local ingredients meets collaboration and exploration. Plus, there was Quince Bangkok, sister restaurant of Quince Saigon placed at #91. And with the pre-COVID buzz returning to the country, and air tickets being booked, don’t be surprised to see significant entries from Vietnam in the Asia 50 Best Restaurants in 2023.
Build It And They Will Come…Eventually
Villa Aida in Japan’s Wakayama was the Asia’s Best 50 Restaurants Awards 2022 list’s highest new entry. And its position refuted the idea you need to be downtown for attention. Villa Aida has been dubbed “a little slice of Campania in the hills of Wakayama”. But the restaurant first threw open its doors 20 years ago. In the intervening years, Kanji Kobayashi has been getting closer to nature as the seasons have passed. And he credits the fact that Villa Aida is away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the produce from their garden that they pickle or preserve when there’s an abundance, and the links he’s built with local producers and the fisherman plying their trade in the sea only 12 km away, as key to the restaurant’s success: “with more people moving to the city, and the ability to find just about anything at the supermarket, it seems as though it is becoming more difficult to sense the relationship that our food has with time.” Good things take time, like Aida’s recognition.
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2022 Was A Graduation Day
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2022 showed a career path from pasty chef to best chef. Chef Natsuko Shoji previously won Best Pastry Chef (in 2020) and now she’s graduated to Best Female Chef for her work at Été, which placed 42nd on the list. As we mentioned, Maira Yeo won best pastry chef and may be on the same trajectory – if she sticks around. She had plans to go to Maaemo in Oslo before COVID ruined her (and all!) our best laid plans.
We’re Up On The Farm
Bangkok’s Chef Ton pioneered links between local farmers first at his Ledu restaurant. He got them to provide fresh ingredients by encouraging them (with some apprehension) to grow edible flowers and build beef businesses that have boomed – something Sorn has taken up too where ingredients are sustainability sourced and proudly local. Masque, in an old mill in Mumbai, aims to get maximum flavor from local ingredients which they experiment with at their Masque Lab. Mingles, Seoul – the Best Restaurant In Korea – have been exploring unsung local ingredients for some time. Villa Aida is said to source more than 100 vegetables from their own and nearby farms. Ode, Tokyo, the highest climber (up from #27 last year) on the list, pays its respects to Japan’s “exquisite ingredients”. And Dewakan, recognized as the best restaurant in Malaysia, “celebrates local, indigenous ingredients sourced from local farms and small-scale businesses” and are proud to use them “economically and effectively”. And at Baan Tepa, you’re even given a tour of the garden before being seated.
The Legends Still Have It
In an Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2022 list described as a major shake up – with the appearance of a record 16 new entries and 10 places represented – it was reassuring to be in the presence of legends. Blue by Alain Ducasse, opened in 2019, helmed by Executive Chef Wilfrid Hocquet and which enjoys majestic views along the Chao Phraya River is “not just another Ducasse outpost”.
But it is Ducasse’s first project in the Thai capital. And we’re not throwing around the title legend lightly – Ducasse was the youngest chef to claim the coveted three Michelin stars and today can claim 21 in total. In fact there were other legends in the Aksra Theater, like Dharshan Munidasa and Ministry Of Crab, celebrating 8 consecutive years on the list. Ministry of Crab debuted in 2015 at #43, a year when Gaggan strode to top spot and Narisawa held its second place.
We’ve Lost And Found Ourselves
Lockdown was a time for soul searching. And deep dives into cuisine history are de rigueur. Especially in Thailand. At Samrub Samrub Thai the former Head Chef at Namh, Chef Prin, offers cuisine served from an eight-seat counter that’s been called “a lesson on Thai recipe history” – fortunately one which doesn’t forgo flavor for all its historical endeavors. In case you’re thirsty afterwards, there’s hip new bar upstairs called Mahaniyom. Beyond the Asia 50, places like Bangkok’s “Chinese-retro curry powerhouse” Charm Gang Curry Shop are keeping Thai curry history alive, thanks to Chef Mew, Chef Aew and Chef Jai.
All photos courtesy of The World’s 50 Best unless otherwise stated.