The World's 50 Best Restaurants list vs. Michelin: who does it better?

One captures the zeitgeist of the gastronomy world. The other rewards cooking that defies time and trends. One system pays tribute to excellence and mastery of the culinary arts. The other rewards the game-changers of the industry.

In short, the Michelin guides and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards differ on every level, says Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine in New York.

“The only way in which they’re the same is that both point you to extraordinary restaurants,” she said in a phone interview with Relaxnews.

It’s been a fast rise for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a list that, on Monday night, will do the seemingly impossible: winnow down millions of restaurants into one tidy ranking and declare a single chef and establishment the best in the world.

In 10 short years, the ranking, compiled by more than 800 food critics, chefs and restaurateurs around the world, has become the list of record, drawing inevitable comparisons with the centuries-old Michelin system, which has been accused of being elitist, old-fashioned and obsolete in light of the growing influence of the World’s 50 Best.

But according to Cowin, who steers one of the most well-read foodie publications at 7.4 million readers, the two systems serve very different purposes. Where Michelin, for instance, serves more as a travel guidebook, the World’s 50 Best could be considered a foodie’s bucket list, she said.

“I would use Michelin as a reference point when I’m traveling, where I didn’t have a lot of intel on the ground,” she said. “But I would use the World’s 50 for food pilgrimages.”

That’s because unlike the Michelin system, which hands out stars based on the opinions of single inspectors, the World’s 50 Best is created by what Cowin describes as the world’s “food intelligencia.” Judges get seven votes, three of which must be cast for restaurants outside their region.

As such, it’s the more democratic of lists, curated by a group of highly respected palates, boosting its authority within the industry.

“A lot of people agree with the list,” she pointed out. “If people picked restaurants that most didn’t agree with, it wouldn’t have the resonance that it has.”

Another major difference between the two? Whereas Michelin rewards quality, restaurants on the World’s 50 Best list represent the zeitgeist of the culinary world, Cowin says.

And according to a scan of last year’s winners, right now that’s chefs who are able to parlay their personal vision and passions into their food -- trailblazers at the vanguard of their craft who are challenging people to rethink food, she said.

For example, René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, which topped the list in 2010 and 2011, has taught people to rethink what’s edible. Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago is challenging people to rethink how you eat a meal and engaging all five senses, she said.

“All of these chefs are asking really big questions."

There are other logistical details that differentiate Michelin from World’s 50 Best: while Michelin is in 23 countries, restaurants nominated in the World’s 50 Best can hail from anywhere in the world. While a star is given out based solely on the food, a spot on the World’s 50 Best list reflects the entire dining experience.

As for which system carries more clout in the industry, Cowin says chefs and restaurateurs will likely have their ear to the ground on Monday, when the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards are announced from London’s Guildhall.

“Chefs really want to land on the list. I know of one chef who's opening a restaurant and whose goal it is to land on the World’s 50 Best,” she said. “He didn’t say I’m trying to build a Michelin restaurant. He said I’m trying to build one of the best in the world.”