The Best Culinary Awards

When it comes to evaluating the culinary world, there’s no one definitive authority. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some very important recognitions to look out for, and it’s not just Michelin stars that matter. The World’s 50 Best List, the James Beard Foundation, and others offer some serious clout for chefs, restaurants, and food-related institutions. Here, we take a look at what sets these awards programs apart.

The World’s 50 Best List is the king of restaurant awards, and its annual ceremony tours the globe. The list is voted on by more than 1000 culinary experts who take many factors into account, from cuisines to dining experience to media coverage of the restaurant, and everything in between. The result is a collection of high-end tasting menu spots with hyper-focused senses of place. Osteria Francescana, for example, is lauded for its use of Parmigano-Reggiano cheese that is native to Emilia-Romagna; and Noma was a pioneer of New Nordic cuisine, which eschewed imported ingredients in favor of indigenous ones.

While the award winners tend to be largely European-leaning, the finalists and honorees are diverse. In 2018, for example, the prize went to JuneBaby, which celebrates a wide range of Asian cuisines; to Seattle’s modern Israeli-leaning Majordomo; and to Brooklyn’s Middle-Eastern-themed Bavel.

Michelin’s star rating system is famously Eurocentric and traditionalist, but it has also proven to be extremely influential. The guide has shaped the way restaurants across the globe present their menus and serve their food. It has also pushed restaurants to strive for excellence, as they know that their customer base will search their name online, seek photos of dishes on social media, and make decisions based on what they read—and what they see—on third-party review sites.

The Michelin Guide is not without flaws, however. It has been criticized for not including more casual restaurants, and for failing to recognize street vendors like a Thai Raan Jay Fai or a Brooklyn pizzeria. And, while it’s easy to get sucked into the “star wars” of the rankings, it’s helpful for consumers to keep in mind that their ratings are only part of a comprehensive assessment of restaurants.

Culinary Schools

If you want to become a chef, it’s not enough to experiment with recipes at home; it’s essential to hone your skills in a school. The best culinary schools have top-notch faculty—from master chefs and cookbook authors to published scholars in the fields of business and liberal arts—as well as a strong student-to-faculty ratio for individual mentoring. They also provide valuable internship opportunities, and some have campuses in the heart of a metropolitan area for even more opportunities to immerse themselves in the restaurant scene.

The most popular culinary programs will focus on everything from culinary techniques and baking fundamentals to restaurant management and food science. They will also offer a range of certificate options to give students the flexibility to pursue their own professional goals. In addition, there are several accredited culinary schools that offer online degree programs.