Interview: William Drew on the future of fine dining in the Middle East

Interview: William Drew on the future of fine dining in the Middle East

The Director of Content for 50 Best discusses the impact the Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants awards will have on the region

The Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best restaurants list is compiled by William Reed Business Media, the company behind The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The original awards launched in 2002, and were followed by the launches of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013. As the inaugural MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants are announced, Connecting Travel caught up with the awards director of content, William Drew, to find out how the event will impact the industry.

Connecting Travel: MENA’s 50 Best and Abu Dhabi Culinary have a three-year contract. What happens after that? Will the MENA’s 50 Best continue?
William Drew: Of course, it is absolutely our intention that MENA’s 50 Best will continue. When The World’s 50 Best Restaurants began, the first annual awards ceremony was held in London in 2003 and continued to be held in London until 2015 before starting a global tour with stops in New York in 2016, Melbourne in 2017, the Basque Country in 2018, Singapore in 2019 and Antwerp in 2021.

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and similarly MENA’s 50 Best, creates a fantastic opportunity to bring an incredible community of chefs and food lovers together from around the world, and a put a spotlight on different regions all over the world and their culinary gems. We have no doubt that wherever MENA’s 50 Best is held in the years to come it will offer an incredible experience for the global and local hospitality community.

CT: With parts of the Middle East currently impacted by political unrest, how will they still be represented in the 2022 listing?
We cannot make any comments about which restaurants have made it on the list for 2022 as it is highly confidential – all will be revealed at the awards ceremony on 7 February. However we can say that the inaugural ranking for Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants will reflect the best restaurant experiences based on the votes of almost 250 voters, made up of anonymous restaurant experts (including chefs, restaurateurs, food and restaurant journalists and well-travelled gourmets) from 19 countries across the entire region.

Countries included in the voting are Algeria; Bahrain; Egypt; Israel; Iran; Iraq; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Libya; Morocco; Oman; Palestine; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Syria; Tunisia; UAE and Yemen

CT: Historically, the Middle East didn’t feature heavily on World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Is MENA’s 50 Best likely to change that by highlighting more talent in the region?
There are myriad explanations as to why restaurants or why some regions have a strong showing or lack representation. It could be an indication of shifting culinary tastes, or it could also represent that a geographical area is becoming more important. We believe this launch can only be positive for the region’s gastronomic community and travel and hospitality economies. The list and events surrounding it bring people together in a spirit of celebration and collaboration, raising the bar, inspiring new ideas and generating buzz around the restaurant sector – as well as driving people into restaurants.

CT: 50 Best has listings in Asia and Latin America. What was the impact of 50 Best launching in those regions?
We have seen over time restaurants that have made it onto the regional lists frequently climb into The World’s 50 Best Restaurants lists. The regional listings have had a positive impact on highlighting these regions and giving them, and their restaurants, greater international attention.

On the whole, all participants in our 50 Best event programming and awards receive international exposure via our platforms – on social media, in articles on our website, in press releases distributed to global media and through our own marketing channels, which reach key chefs, VIPs, influencers and tastemakers in the hospitality sector, highlighting each establishment for its own unique accomplishments.

This is why we say that 50 Best is more than just a list, it comprises an entire content operation using our multiple platforms to shine a spotlight on establishments and individuals.

CT: French restaurant guide Gault & Millau has also chosen to launch their listing in the Middle East this year. Do you see this as a good thing?
Sure. It provides more opportunity for restaurants in the region to gain the recognition they deserve. We are also glad to lead this collective movement to shine an overdue spotlight on the region’s hospitality scene and culinary offerings by hosting the first-ever edition of MENA’s 50 Best in Abu Dhabi.

CT: Between annual events, will there be any 50 Best activations to support the industry?
50 Best continuously supports the industry throughout the year. While the awards are indeed our focal point, 50 Best is about more than just one event a year for each list. 50 Best looks to be a progressive force in the hospitality ecosystem, as can be seen in the support programmes that we have run in response to the pandemic, such as 50 Best for Recovery, which has raised more than US$1.25m to date and provided grants to more than 200 hospitality businesses from 53 countries.

June 2022 will witness the second edition of 50 Next, an annual list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy, which first launched in April 2021

50 Next showcases a diverse global selection of bright young minds who have turned their ideas into reality. The unranked list aims to inspire, empower and connect young people who are truly pushing boundaries and tackling challenges from fresh perspectives across the food and drink ecosystem.

Champions of Change, an awards initiative that launched in 2021 as part of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants overall programme, will also continue in 2022, highlighting a small number of unsung heroes who are creating positive change and driving meaningful action. Champions of Change will continue to provide a substantial monetary donation to each of the recipients’ causes, which all support long-term progress in the restaurant and food sphere.

This year will see further additions to 50 Best Discovery, an in-depth collection of city guides for restaurants and bars, which operates as an extension of the prestigious 50 Best rankings globally. Nearly 600 new venues were added in August 2021, bringing the number of establishments on the platform to more than 2,000, with 81 global countries included. Additional entries are slated to be added in 2022, casting a wider floodlight on the best restaurants and bars across the world.


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