In 2015, the top ten restaurants named in the annual list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was truly an international assortment, with entries from nine different countries on four different continents. What the top ten didn’t include was a restaurant from France. After four straight years in which French restaurants weren’t ranked higher than No. 11, the country decided that it would just launch its own ranking system, one that would obviously recognize the superiority of French cuisine.
Later that year, France’s Foreign Ministry released its first installment of La Liste, a guide to what it said were the 1,000 “best tables of exception” on this planet. Although its complicated algorithm placed the Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Lausanne, Switzerland in the top spot, Guy Savoy in Paris was ranked No. 4. (It did not make the World’s 50 Best list).
But after four years of releasing its own rankings, the head of La Liste is criticizing the state of French cuisine—even though Guy Savoy was named La Liste’s co-number-one restaurant for the second straight year. “Thirty or 40 years ago you could cross the country stopping randomly every 20 kilometers and eat very well,” Philippe Faure, deputy chairman of France’s tourism promotion board and an appointed French ambassador, told AFP. “There were good bistros everywhere. But that is no longer the case. Without using a guide you can now eat better in Switzerland, Spain and in Italy.”
Although Faure is still impressed with French haute cuisine, he believes that younger chefs, smaller restaurants, and smaller cities aren’t pulling their culinary weight. “There are too few [good] gastronomic bistros in the big towns and not enough young people doing good things,” he said. “In the provinces it's lamentable, it's not good.”
According to Faure, part of the problem is that French cooking is both hard to master and expensive to maintain. “Italian cooking is very easy [by comparison],” he said, throwing some heavy shade. “Pasta, conserves, sun-dried tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese keep for years. But in a French restaurant you have to have fresh salads, fresh fish sauces, delicate fine cheeses and that is infinitely more complicated and costly and it demands a lot of know-how.”
It’s worth noting that the other number one on this year’s La Liste is New York’s Le Bernardin, which is co-owned by French chef Éric Ripert. "I’m happy to be rewarded,” he told the New York Times. “And I’m very pleased that a French organization has recognized an American restaurant, that the United States is at the top.”
Well, sort of. The Times notes that the first Le Bernardin was actually opened in Paris in 1972 by Maguy Le Coze and her brother, Gilbert. The New York location followed in January 1986, and Maguy still co-owns the restaurant, along with Ripert. (Coincidentally, the Le Cozes sold the original Paris Le Bernardin to… Guy Savoy).
Lamentable or not, France has 118 restaurants on La Liste this year. And, lamentable or not, it’s hard to imagine next year’s La Liste will look any different.
This article originally appeared on Munchies US.