On the stroke of midnight of November 11, 2014, Gaggan Anand personally presented me a mango bomb cake as I wished upon the stars and blew out the candle. I happened to be in Bangkok for a work trip during the eve of my birthday—and I decided to spend it at Gaggan.
On March 9, 2015, Gaggan was awarded the #1 Restaurant in Asia at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony at Capella in Sentosa, Singapore. I couldn’t have been happier and prouder. I first met Gaggan at the 2014 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and coincidentally, it was his birthday then and we all had a fun celebration at the after-party hosted by celebrity chef Bobby Chinn at Movenpick Resort. I am a big fan of Indian food and at his restaurant, Gaggan keeps his roots– and the inspiration from the street food from his birth place of Kolkata, India– alive (for instance, he doesn’t serve utensils in the first eight courses so guests can have a direct interaction with the food with their fingers). Yet at the same time injects the style he learned from Ferran Adria at El Bulli. The end result is some very delicious progressive Indian cuisine.
This year was a VERY important year for the Philippines as well because for the first time ever, we made it to the list, with Antonio’s in Tagaytay entering at #48, hooray!!! We Filipinos have always championed chef Tony Boy Escalante’s modern European cuisine since it first opened in 2002, but now it has put us on the map once again! (PS He’s opening a restaurant in Metro Manila– finally!!!– converting an old house in Kapitolyo, Pasig– later this year!)
For those of you overseas who have never been, here’s a snippet of what Antonio’s looks and feels like from the CNNGo: Manila episode I did for CNN International back in 2012. I had breakfast there and Chef Tony Boy took me around before I hiked up Taal Volcano! (The Antonio’s bit starts at 00:40)
To quote William Drew, group editor of Asia’s 50 Best, organized by William Reed Business Media and sponsored by San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, “We are about bringing people together– not just about top restaurants– [but] we are also about collaboration, provocation and inspiration.”
I personally think that this awards is also a great opportunity for tourism as each restaurant that makes it on the list also puts the country it’s from on the map. For example, people now are like,” I want to go to the Philippines to try Antonio’s and to Cambodia to try Cuisine Wat Damnak.” (Both are NEW COUNTRIES to the list– and Gaggan happens to be one of those who has them on his bucket list!)
A chef recently told me, “The World’s 50 Best/ Asia’s 50 Best/ Latin America’s Best is actually more important now than [insert established guide rating here] because this is the one that can make or break a restaurant/ chef.”
Here are my Top 3 personal highlights from the Asia’s 50 Best 2015:
1) Seeing my favorite restaurants in Singapore climb up the list!
Andre Chiang’s Restaurant Andre (now at # 5; also voted best restaurant in Singapore) and Julien Royer’s Jaan (now at # 11; coincidentally, sous chef Kirk Westaway was also awarded S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 for Southeast Asia); and the new entry of Dave Pynt’s Burnt Ends right at #30!
Plus, the new entry of Hakkasan in Shanghai to #46— I tried it last year and it was superb– a kind of “welcome back home– finally!” as the restaurant– which serves modern Cantonese fare– first opened in London, then New York, Miami, Mumbai, and so on– and finally last year in its home country!
Richard Ekkebus of Amber in Hong Kong very deservedly won the Chefs’ Choice Award for 2015. Also a massive congratulations to Tetsuya Wakuda who won the Lifetime Achievement Award! He had the loudest applause that evening!
2) Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s talk at the Asia’s 50 Best Summit– “You need to leave your ego at the door.”
A summary of some of their points: “Hospitality is about being reactive and doing your best to figure out what your guests want, and accommodating them in a way for them to feel seen or heard… We research our guests as much as we can before they come in because in the absence of information, we cannot provide personalized service… We look at the experience not about us but about the guest’s experience… There is a growing pride today about not caring about what the guest wants, it’s about what the chef wants; we are not about that at all.”
Their humility, perseverance and guest-centeredness (rather than chef-centeredness) are inspiring and possibly the reason why they are one of the most successful restaurants in the world today (# 4 in the world) — something a lot of others can learn from.
3) The Asia’s 50 Best Maestro Dinner personally prepared by THE Tiger’s Milk Gang from Peru at Daniel Chavez’s Ola Cocina del Mar.
The Peruvian Quartet, also known as Leche de Tigre, is led by Gastón Acurio of Astrid y Gaston, Rafael Piqueras of Marasi, Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido, and Virgilio Martinez of Central (currently #1 in Latin America). The most impressive thing about them is that they travel the world promoting Peruvian cuisine.
“We have a huge biodiversity — a heritage of hundreds of recipes that call for a multicultural society,” shares Acurio. “We don’t compete– we share. We are representing a community and are the voice of the farmers working high up in the Andes dealing with a lot of environmental problems. We are presenting food because we deeply believe we can do a lot for food for our communities. We are here not because we are selling our restaurants but because we are representing something bigger than us.”
Definitely something we can aspire for as well!
The Full List of the 2015 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants:
1. GAGGAN Bangkok, Thailand
2. NARISAWA Tokyo, Japan
3. ULTRAVIOLET BY PAUL PAIRET Shanghai, China
4. NIHONRYORI RYUGIN Tokyo, Japan
5. RESTAURANT ANDRÉ Singapore
6. AMBER Hong Kong, China
7. NAHM Bangkok, Thailand
8. 8 1/2 OTTO E MEZZO BOMBANA Hong Kong, China
9. WAKU GHIN Singapore
10. JUNGSIK Seoul, Korea
11. JAAN Singapore
12. L’EFFERVESCENCE Tokyo, Japan
13. LES AMIS Singapore
14. HAJIME Osaka, Japan
15. FOOK LAM MOON Hong Kong, China
16. FU1015 Shanghai, China
17. L’ATELIER DE JOËL ROBUCHON Hong Kong, China
18. IGGY’S Singapore
19 FU HE HUI Shanghai, China
20. LUNG KING HEEN Hong Kong, China
21. MR AND MRS BUND Shanghai, China
22 INDIAN ACCENT New Delhi, India
23 ROBUCHON AU DÔME Macau, China
24 TENKU RYUGIN Hong Kong, China
25 EAT ME Bangkok, Thailand
26 LE MOÛT Taichung, Taiwan
27 RYUNIQUE Seoul, Korea
28. BO INNOVATION Hong Kong, China
29. WASABI BY MORIMOTO Mumbai, India
30. BURNT ENDS Singapore
31. NIHONBASHI Colombo, Sri Lanka
32. SHINJI BY KANESAKA Singapore
33. TAKAZAWA Tokyo, Japan
34. 28 HUBIN ROAD Hangzhou, China
35. THE CHAIRMAN Hong Kong, China
36. TIPPLING CLUB Singapore
37. BO.LAN Bangkok, Thailand
38. LA YEON Seoul, South Korea
39. ISSAYA SIAMESE CLUB Bangkok, Thailand
40. SUSHI SAITO Tokyo, Japan
41. BUKHARA New Delhi, India
42. CAPRICE Hong Kong, China
43. MINISTRY OF CRAB Colombo, Sri Lanka
44. SUKIYABASHI JIRO Tokyo, Japan
45. OSTERIA MOZZA Singapore
46. HAKKASAN Shanghai, China
47. IMPERIAL TREASURE SUPER PEKING DUCK Singapore
48. ANTONIO’S Tagaytay, Philippines
49. QUINTESSENCE Tokyo, Japan
50. CUISINE WAT DAMNAK Siem Reap, Cambodia
For more information on Asia’s 50 Best, visit their website here.