Who are these secret judges? And where's Best Vietnamese and Best Brunch?
The nominees for our 30th annual Restaurant Awards came out last week and, as has become the norm, social media immediately erupted with a melange of support, outrage, conspiracy theories and a few legitimate queries thrown in for ballast.
So in order to assuage the likely intractable, I figured it would be worthwhile to answer some of the most common questions.
1. Who are these secret judges?
This one always gets me. OUR JUDGES ARE NOT SECRET. We literally publish their names and their bios in every Restaurant Awards issue. Here's last year's crop. Further, they're without a doubt the best judges in the city. We're so committed to having an exemplary judging panel that we have people who work for ostensibly rival publications. And the great food minds who aren't on it (Alexandra Gill, Andrew Morrison and Mia Stainsby, to name but three) are former judges who've stepped down, often due to the time required to participate or to let new judges join the group.
2. How does Cioppino's win gold last year and not even get nominated this year?
I use this one example as a catchall for questions about wild positional changes that occasionally happen. The focussed answer is: I don't know. I talk with the judges about a lot of things, but I don't know how they vote or who they vote for, and I never question them about either. They are independent in the truest sense in the word—their votes go to Crowe Mackay accountants, not to VanMag, and we just see the results.
The broad answer is that every category is made up of a number of judges and the judges in any specific category change from year to year. We do this so the categories don't get stale and predictable. So the panel of judges who voted on Best Italian this year are not the same panel as those who voted on it last year. (Some judges will be the same, some won't.) Also, the judges revisit the restaurant each year, often several times. All those are the free radicals that give rise to results that aren't the same year after year.
3. Sure, but c'mon, advertisers have to have a leg up, right?
This canard was trumpeted by a certain sore loser of a chef a few years back and frequently rears its ugly head. Simply put: erroneous! The reason we have the independent judging panel is explicitly to keep there ever being a possibility of a conflict. I mean, I don't even get to vote in the awards. Every year, we have seriously hurt feelings and ads cancelled by irate restaurants who feel slighted—those are just the lumps we take to be impartial.
4. Where's Best Vietnamese? Or Best Brunch?
I answered this last year under the guise of Vegetarian, but the short answer is that there's a limit to the number of categories our judging panel can handle in a given year. So when we need to limit the number and the easiest way to do that is to have a system of rotating categories in and out each year. There's no hard science on which categories we choose: generally we aim for categories that haven't had a big new opening that's may be a serious contender or ones that have been generally static for a few years.
5. You have no idea what you're talking about.
Please feel free to fire off any other gripes, conspiracy theories or even compliments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to answer them. See you at the awards!