Header: Paul Grinberg with Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, Dave Pynt of Burnt Ends in Singapore and Zaiyu Hasegawa and Puchi the dog at Den in Tokyo
Two months ahead of the release of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018, one fine dining aficionado is on the final straight of his mission – to eat at every destination on the 2017 list and the extended 51-100.
As part of his job managing the international operations for a financial services company, Paul Grinberg spends at least 250 days of the year away from his home in Orinda, California. Around 12 years ago, a memorable experience at Le Bernardin in New York sparked a love of fine dining, and this in turn led to the start of a journey through many of the world’s Michelin-starred restaurants, all extensively tracked in a handy spreadsheet.
A few years later, on holiday in Spain, Grinberg discovered the 50 Best list and booked trips to El Celler de Can Roca and Mugaritz, among others. The experience blew him away – he says both meals were “unlike any I had experienced before, and I realised there was something really special about the restaurants on the 50 Best list”. Not one to approach a task half-heartedly, he set out to eat at as many 50 Best restaurants as possible, and in 2017 he extended the challenge to the 51-100 list.
As of now, he has dined at 99% of the restaurants and is actively seeking a seat at the only one remaining – Sushi Saito in Tokyo, Japan. Here he gives us some of the highlights of an envy-inducing year in food.
What has been the overall highlight of your adventure?
Meeting so many amazing people, from chefs to managers to servers and other diners. I’ve met the team representing Australia in the World Gelato Championships, I’ve bumped into the same couples in different restaurants in different parts of the world. I’ve met wine distributors, who have invited me to join them for tastings, and I’ve shared my passion for Pink Floyd with more than one chef. The food has been great, but the connections have truly been the highlight.
Ultraviolet's seacoast waves dining room scene (image: Scott Wright)
What are your top three restaurant experiences from the 50 Best lists?
Le Calandre in Rubano, Italy
We chose the ‘Max’ menu, which had an extraordinary dessert called the Chocolate Game. One of the items was a balloon on a stick; another was an inflated latex glove with some very sweet and tasty treats on each finger. Everyone was smiling, laughing and having a great time.
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai, China
The pairing of the food with visual images and sound was truly remarkable and enhanced each and every one of the 20 courses. During Act 3, I was surrounded by images of the Singapore skyline as I walked up to a makeshift street food stall to be served black pepper beef. I felt like I was eating the most delectable street food on a busy street in Singapore.
Alinea in Chicago, USA
Chef Achatz has mastered creativity and bringing emotion into the food. As diners across the restaurant bite into the helium-filled balloon and start talking like Alvin and the Chipmunks, there is a moment of uncontrolled laughter and smiles that last long after the meal. I still talk to friends about the dessert art created on the table in front of me.
What is the one restaurant you’d be happy to visit regularly?
There are so many which I would dine at again and again, but if I had to pick one, it would be Maido in Lima, Peru. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura’s ability to fuse Japanese and Peruvian (two of my favourite) ingredients and flavours is wonderful. If you’re looking for something less elaborate than the Nikkei Experience tasting menu, Maido also has an extensive menu of sushi, sashimi, udon, nimono etc.
Sea urchin rice at Maido (image: Maido)
What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done as part of your quest?
I’ve done a lot of extreme things, including taking in 20 Michelin stars over one long weekend, taking a 12-hour flight for dinner and returning the next day, and eating two dinners on the same night. (I was only in Adelaide for one day so I had no option but to have two dinners). I also recruited 16 people to make calls on the day Sushi Saito opened its reservations, but I was unsuccessful.
Who do you usually dine with?
I often eat with my partner Stephanie, my three children and their partners and spouses and sometimes with work colleagues. My family has joined me at about 35 out of the 100. When I am travelling internationally for business, I often dine alone.
How do you stay in shape?
I exercise for 90-120 minutes every day, no matter what. I view exercise the same way as I view brushing my teeth – it is never optional. There is no snooze on the alarm in the morning. I’m also disciplined with bread, and when I’m at home I try to maintain a healthy, high protein, low saturated fat diet.
Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (image: David Griffen Photography)
Do you cook at home?
When I’m not travelling, I usually eat at home. I’ve acquired all sorts of kitchen toys, including a whole host of molecular gastronomy tools, and I have an extensive edible garden at home. My favourite food to cook is anything Asian. I’m a sushi nut and at one point I ate it every day, until I found out that I had eight times the normal level of mercury in my body and had to go cold turkey on seafood for a year.
What is the one restaurant you’ve never been to that you want to visit?
One of my biggest regrets is never making it to El Bulli. I started my culinary journey just as it was closing. I have been to Enigma and Tickets but it would have been great to dine at the place where it all started.
And of course, to complete my journey of dining at all 100 restaurants on the 2017 list, I need to dine at Sushi Saito.
Sushi Saito (image: Sushi Saito)
Finally, what are your favourite dishes?
Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London; Amazonian ant at D.O.M. in São Paulo; the helium-filled apple balloon and the dessert table art at Alinea in Chicago; the 54-ingredient salad at Frantzén in Stockholm; the olive tree at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona; the yoghurt explosion at Gaggan in Bangkok; the Singapore food truck at Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai; the several-hundred-days-old mole at Pujol in Mexico City; the foie gras jelly at Restaurant André in Singapore; the beef at Asador Etxebarri in Axpe and at Burnt Ends in Singapore. I could go on…
Paul Grinberg has just over two months until the new World’s 50 Best Restaurants list is revealed on Tuesday 19th June in Bilbao, Spain – and then he can start his mission all over again.
Watch the highlights from last year's World's 50 Best Restaurants programme in Melbourne, Australia – including the moment Grant Achatz and Mike Bagale presented their helium balloon dish to the audience at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: