What's In A List? Gen.T Honouree Cheryl Tiu On The Value Of Rankings

By Christina Ko

For some, being included on a prestigious list spurs further greatness; for others the weight of expectation is stifling. World's 50 Tastehunter Cheryl Tiu on the impact of our culture of competition

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Cheryl Tiu. Photo: Rita Marie
Cover  Cheryl Tiu. Photo: Rita Marie

We love lists. You aren’t a human, restaurant, hotel or start-up worth anyone’s time unless you’ve showed up on some sort of ranking. Since their inception, Asia Tatler’s Society Lists have been a topic of great discussion—there are those who spend a lifetime trying to make the cut, some who pretend they're disinterested in such accolades, and others still who try their best to fly under the radar. 

Similarly, Generation T's annual list of young leaders across Asia is a topic of fierce debate. How do they pick the people? Why isn’t so-and-so on it? How do I get on it? 

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants is another hotly debated list. What started as an interesting magazine feature exploded when Ferran Adrià showed up for the inaugural ceremony, and the rest, as they say, is history. The list now comprises standalone awards for newcomers and female chefs, special Latin American and Asian editions and its own social-media committee, the World’s 50 Best Tastehunters.

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Photo: Rita Marie
Above  Cheryl Tiu. Photo: Rita Marie

Cheryl Tiu is one of those Tastehunters. A journalist, foodie and Gen.T honouree, her job is to capture her own culinary adventures, which are then shared across the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and World’s 50 Best Bars’ social-media channels.

In her opinion, the lists are a boon for both those honoured and the general public. “50 Best has really been spotlighting restaurants from around the world, enticing foodies to travel to a particular country just to try a restaurant. And it’s especially helpful for countries that don’t have any other guides or awards bodies,” she says.

People look to these lists because a lot of work goes into acknowledging and scoring accomplishments, especially when it's curated by a respected brand
Cheryl Tiu

That said, not just any accolade will do. The public—and in particular the dining public—is far from easily duped. “There's an overflow of information out there, and a lot of thought and collaboration goes into determining and populating [lists that have true gravitas],” she says. “People look to these lists because a lot of work goes into acknowledging and scoring accomplishments, especially when it's curated by a respected brand.”

The 50 Best Restaurants awards, in particular, have quickly grown to mean more even than the storied Michelin-star rating system. While the three stars are still coveted, the 50 Best has in many ways overtaken the ratings guide when it comes to trustworthiness. And that’s exactly what Tiu means.

“Part of it is the scoring and judging process, or the panelists, too. The 50 Best list is determined by their 1,040 voters—a mix of chefs, journalists and foodies—from around the world. And they've made a conscious effort to be more inclusive, now splitting their academy of voters equally between 50 percent female and 50 percent male, whereas Michelin rests on the opinions of only one or two people.”

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Cheryl Tiu (centre) with the team behind Toyo restaurant at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 ceremony
Above  Cheryl Tiu (centre) with the team behind Toyo restaurant at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 ceremony

The lists also very much allow the public to measure their opinions against those of the experts. Who isn’t guilty of dining at a highly ranked restaurant and questioning how deserving it is? But is this a media trend that’s gone too far? As a journalist, Tiu too has decried the rise of the listicle as an easy and default way of enticing clicks. “It's true, it's not my favourite type [of article] to write, but they are very reader-friendly. And at the end of the day, we write for our audiences, and we can't be journalists without our readers—so I go with what works.”

“I myself look at a lot of lists,” she admits. “50 Best for restaurants, reviews from reputable media outlets and also app reviews when I'm in the middle of nowhere looking for a place to eat. But I also look to recommendations of writers, foodies and chefs I respect. And I Google everything and cross-check.”

She’s not just a list user—as a Gen.T honoree and a Tastehunter, she too has benefited from the prestige associated with being on a shortlist of greats, and it’s afforded her opportunities: “I currently split my time between Manila and Miami these days, developing content for my website cheryltiu.com. I also contribute to several international and regional publications. I have an events platform Cross Cultures and organise events, working with everyone from the World's 50 Best and Michelin-starred restaurants to food movements, promoting the exchange of cultures through food. I have also been developing a beverage product with my partners, which we hope to bring to market soon.”

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Massimo Bottura with Chery Tiu at the World's Best Restaurants 2018 ceremony
Above  With Massimo Bottura at the World's 50 Best ceremony in Bilbao

Not everyone wants to have the pressure of being a list-topper, though. After being top-ranked for years on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Rene Redzepi chose to close down Noma, stating that he needed the opportunity to reset. “The point is that we dare again to fail, whereas with the old Noma, it had to be perfect.” And Gaggan Anand, who has taken the number-one spot in Asia’s 50 Best for four years running, has also said that the pressure to be perfect can be paralysing.

“I think everyone is affected differently. Sometimes winning an award may create more pressure, but other times it motivates a person to try even harder and become better than they previously were,” says Tiu. Ultimately, no matter how subjective, she thinks the world is a better place for our love of lists.

“[With lists like Generation T], they provide the inspiration to shape innovations and outcome. It’s so inspiring to see what young people in society are doing to help make the world a better place, each in their own industry and realm.”

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