On Top Of The List
Leading the world’s global culinary standards, Tim Brooke Webb is opening up minds of food lovers across the world.
Tim Brooke Webb is a well-known name in the global culinary industry. The Managing Director of William Reed Business Media, he has been responsible for a number of portfolios, including The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – a sought after list that every modern cuisine restaurant and chef would love to be in.
How would you sum up the story of your life?
I was born 44 years ago into an army family in the UK. My father’s job required him to work in different parts of Europe and I spent much of my childhood in Germany, Northern Ireland and at the NATO HQ in Belgium. Going to boarding school from age of 7, I travelled independently and met people of different nationalities. This gave me interest and curiosity about other cultures.
I joined William Reed in 2007 and became responsible for 50 Best Restaurants a year later. Since then, the brand has grown into something bigger than we never imagined – the most powerful voice in global gastronomy. I have now overseen 9 World’s 50 Best Restaurants events and 5 each of Latin America’s and Asia’s 50 Best. We have recently added The World’s 50 Best Bars and Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
Could you share with us the process and the criteria of selecting the best restaurants in the world?
There are no criteria that a restaurant has to meet. They do not have to sell a certain product or need to have been open a certain number of years and have won any other culinary accolades. Restaurants cannot apply to be on the list, and cannot be nominated. It also means that every restaurant in the world is eligible.
The list is created from the votes of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, comprising over 1,000 international restaurant industry experts. The Academy is split into 26 separate regions around the world. Each region has its own voting panel of 40 members including a chairperson to head it up. Made up from food writers, critics, chefs, restaurateurs and well-travelled gourmets, each Academy member has 10 votes, and must submit their 10 choices, with 4 of these restaurants needing to be outside their home region. They must have eaten in the restaurants they nominate in the last 18 months.
What are the common characteristics of all the winners?
They are visionaries, deeply inspiring and intelligent individuals whose incredible leadership inspires not just their teams but also an almost cult-like following amongst global foodies. They take celebrity status well and use their influence to promote great causes. And they can cook!
What are 3 important criteria to be listed in the 50 Best Restaurants?
Of course, the first criterion is to offer customers excellent food and drink. It is also an ability to conjure the most incredible dishes whilst showing respect for ingredients and the extraordinary ability to offer excellent hospitality.
Who or what inspires you in daily life?
I’m inspired by many people. In my line of work I am lucky to meet some of the leading chefs on the planet. Seeing them work, listening to them speak and witnessing their passion – you can’t help but be inspired. I am surrounded by some amazingly talented colleagues, my boss, Charles, inspires me and my team inspire me, in return I hope I inspire them. I also find inspiration in my wife and children – mostly to be the man they think I am.
What is your view of today’s European culinary scene?
It’s a really exciting time to be a chef in any part of the world, and Europe has enjoyed this excitement for longer than any other continent, I think. It’s true to say that 50 Best has changed the gastronomic world, and through Latin America’s 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best we have managed to shine a very powerful light on some restaurants and regions which were previously in the shadows. For me this is one of the things I am most proud of when I think of what our team has achieved with the brand. The list has democratised gastronomy, globalised it, made it more accessible, demystified it and must have benefited the entire industry in ways we can’t begin to measure.
What are the opportunities and threats you foresee in the future about the culinary world?
I think gastronomy has entered a golden age. This is an opportunity for the whole industry. People have never been so interested in what they eat and where it comes from and have never been so intent on sharing their food experiences. Social media has impacted the industry hugely and so has TripAdvisor. Your guests now do your marketing for free – as long as you get it right.
Counter intuitively, there are less young people wanting to enter the industry as chefs, resulting in huge skills shortages. This industry also needs to work harder to encourage women to the top, and make it easier for them to stay there. This in itself would help solve an enormous part of the skills shortage we are facing.
What is your opinion about the culinary scene in Asia?
The Asian culinary scene is one of the most exciting to me personally. I’ve been travelling to Asia for over 20 years and have seen a lot of change in that time. The huge range of complex, traditional, heritage cuisines is fascinating. The variety of plant species is incredible, and the creativity of Asia’s chefs is impressive. The fact that so many western chefs have set up in Asia, just look at Singapore and Bangkok, demonstrates the high regard the culinary world holds Asia in. I love the seasonality, the range of produce from differing climates, the inventiveness and the spiciness of Asian food.
Have you been to Malaysia? What are your thoughts on our cuisine?
I’ve travelled to Malaysia a few times, enjoying the islands for holidays - Perhentian, Pangkor Laut, Langkawi and Penang, Cameron Highlands, and spent some time in KL. Sadly my visits predate my interests in cuisine so I can’t comment from a point of great food experience. I do think that Malaysia as a whole could do more to promote its gastronomy to the world. Your neighbours, Thailand and Singapore have been very successful in positioning themselves as a gastronomic hub. Malaysia has an equally remarkable cuisine, with the blend of cultures and influences which make up the country. There’s a fascinating story there, waiting to be told to the world. My ambition is to bring 50 Best to Malaysia in the near future, we normally work closely with Tourism Boards to make this happen and I would welcome a conversation with Tourism Malaysia!
What is the most important characteristic that every great chef should possess?
For me it is kindness. It’s incredibly tough getting to the top of any profession, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices, but the culture in kitchens has changed a lot in the last decade. I see a huge movement in kitchens to work much more positively within teams. This in turn will help with the image of the industry and the recruitment crisis.
What advice would you give a new employee going into a leadership position for the first time?
Take your time to learn the ropes – you only get a short window when people will forgive a lack of knowledge or skills. Listen more than you talk – you have 2 ears and one mouth – what does that tell you? Show humility and read the above about kindness. And remember – if your teams succeed, then you succeed.
How do you define success in your life? How are you going to achieve it?
Before I had children I’m afraid success was measured by materialism and status, possessions and earnings. I worked hard and I was recognised quickly in my early career. I set myself the rather silly goal of buying a Porsche before I was 30. Since having children I’ve realised that success is more about bringing them up to be decent, kind, happy human beings who give more than they take. Of course there is still career success, I’ve got another 25 years until I can draw my pension!
Success in the workplace is about seeing my teams and brands succeed and grow. When I took on 50 Best it was a one person team, now we have 12 people full time, of all different nationalities working towards a common goal. But 50 Best is only 25 percent of my time, I head a team of 65 people producing magazines, websites, newsletters and over 60 events a year. It’s hard to think of a next move because I love what I do and there is still so much to be done!