Well, actually we won’t know which establishment the #1 restaurant in Canada is for 2019 until tomorrow (April 15). This will be the fifth year of competition. It has garnered increasing notoriety and importance to both the foodie consumer community and professional restaurant crowd. I am firmly ensconced amongst the former, though I eagerly awaited the results each year. I love finding out how some of my personal favorites fared. It is always a thrill that one or two of my new personal favorites have been recognized by the august panel of judges.
This year however, I am no longer a passive observer; the cards have been dealt, my chips are on the table. Back in January, Jacob Richler, the editor of the magazine and the maestro of the competition, invited me to be one of the 100 competition judges. I couldn’t have said “Yes, I’ll do it!” any quicker or more enthusiastically. Indeed, I haven’t been that willing to do something since my senior prom…. to accept an invitation, that is.
When Jacob founded Canada’s 100 Best his plan was to do things a bit differently. Lots of lists were being published but they were usually the opinion of just one critic or a cozy cohort of food industry insiders. Jacob has been a high profile and notoriously tough restaurant critic in top Canadian publications for years. He’s been asked to put together just such list on countless occasions. He knew the challenges of covering a country as expansive and diverse as Canada. His list would be the result of a much wider polling. Canada’s 100 best restaurant judges come from across the country include critics and writers, chefs, restaurateurs’ diners and, yes, enthusiastic bloggers such as yours truly.
Each judge is asked to pick and rank their personal top 10 choices . A minimum of three of the picks must be from outside the judge’s home province. The only other restriction is that you are not allowed to vote for a restaurant in which you have a personal of financial interest. This year we were also asked to nominate a best new restaurant (opened in the calendar year), best sommelier, best pastry chef and best service.
Judges submit their choices; the accounting firm KPMG oversees and impartially tabulating the results. Just like the Oscars. They take their job seriously. As Willy Kruh points out the industry employs 1.2 million workers and 18 million Canadians dine in restaurants daily. The impact of Canada’s 100 Best on every participant in the dining experience from vendor to kitchen staff to front of house to patrons to food writers and, even, to the ubiquitous digital reservation services cannot be under-estimated.
Canada has a lot of fabulous restaurants and ascribing which is the best amongst so much excellence is harder than you might think. The pool of worthy candidates ranges from white table-cloth bastions of old school cuisine with enormous financial backing to the informal passion projects of young chefs and restauranteurs with budgets filled with aspiration and scant dollars. Canadian regional cuisine has become highly prevalent and locavore is no longer synonymous with limited menu selection or ill-conceived ingredient combinations.
It seems like Canadian food conception, preparation and delivery has developed a domestic identity and has become a national asset about which we can have great pride. A high quality food experience is no longer the exclusive privilege of our largest metropolitan centers. It is no longer derivative of traditional French or Italian recipes. Yes, many of the best Canadian chefs have invested long years in European kitchens to gain their remarkable technical facility, but their diverse culinary voices are truly Canadian. And we are blessed, once again, by this uniquely Canadian cultural alchemy.
I am excited to be surprised by Canada’s 100 Best 2019. Yes, there will be predictable inclusions but that will be due to persistent excellence and not a lack of competition. I often peruse Canada’s 100 Best as I plan my travel itineraries. And though I am guilty of liking what I like and being a serial diner at my favorite tables, I am always willing to try something new. I will continue to blog about the restaurants and restauranteurs for whom I have great affection, and I will also share my experience at that new new place, provided I can get a table.
The list will be announced in the evening in Toronto at the St. Regis Hotel. It will be on the website shortly thereafter. https://canadas100best.com. Printed copies will be available on newsstands across Canada on April 22. A special supplement will be in the May 1 edition of the Globe & Mail Newspaper.