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French restaurant crowned ‘best in the world’ for the first time

A restaurant in France has been crowned best in the world for the first time in the history of the title - although the chef is not French.

French restaurant crowned 'best in the world' for the first time
Chef Mauro Colagreco in his restaurant vegetable garden. Photo: AFP

A French restaurant has been crowned best in the world for the first time in the history of the title, bagging the top award for Mirazur in south east France.

Mirazur, run by Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco, was crowned the world's best at an awards ceremony put on by British trade magazine Restaurant on Tuesday night.

In second spot in the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards, now as coveted by eateries as Michelin stars, was Noma in Copenhagen and in third was Asador Etxebarri in Spain.

An ecstatic Colagreco called his team to the stage and exclaimed “Wow, wow, wow” after his victory was announced at a ceremony in Singapore.


The Miazur team celebrate their win in Singapore

“Thank you my team. You deserve it, all these years. Thank you friends for supporting us during these last 13 years,” he said.

Mirazur in Menton, in southeast France near the Italian border, has three Michelin stars and offers diners dishes made with ingredients from Colagreco's own backyard farm, including fresh vegetables and seafood.

His dishes include monkfish, anchovy fillets with lemon juice, or oyster with tapioca, shallot cream and pear. 

Mirazur was awarded its third Michelin star in January. Colagreco, 42, opened the restaurant in 2006 and was awarded his first star the following year, before getting his second in 2012. 

The early days were tough for Colagreco, who moved to France in 2001 as a newly qualified chef, but since being awarded the second star the restaurant has seen its popularity grow.

Speaking a press conference after the awards, the chef said that “our vision is a desire to express ourselves, to give to our guests the best experience… it's a simple vision of life”.

The highest ranked restaurant in Asia was fourth-placed Gaggan in Bangkok, whose owner-chef Gaggan Anand has won praise for his modern spin on his native Indian cuisine.

This is the first time that a French eaterie has taken the title since the award was established.

Restaurant magazine, owned by William Reed Media, launched the awards in 2002 and they are now highly coveted, although the methodology used to select the best restaurants has faced criticism, especially from several French chefs who say it remains unclear.

There are no criteria for putting a restaurant on the list, which is based on an anonymous poll of more than 1,000 chefs, restaurant owners, food critics and other industry insiders from around the world.

Each member gets 10 votes and at least four of those votes have to go to restaurants outside their region.

The top restaurant award has gone to Spain seven times, the most of any country.

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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