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Worlds Top 50 Restaurants

For the most part, chefs worked off the same page of a dusty cookbook. A kitchen was judged by the texture of its bernaise sauce, or whether its creme brulee cracked just so.

Technique and execution, not innovation, made a chef "great."

Today, the best chefs still know how to roast a duck and render its fat. But over the past 20 years, a reformation has swept through the temples of fine dining. Inventiveness is everything now.

Many ambitious modern chefs would no sooner cook in the classic style than Kobe Bryant would wear black canvas high-tops.

A recently released ranking of the world's top eateries reveals that to be the best, a chef must be creative to the point of absurdity.

In April, the British magazine Restaurant unveiled its fourth annual global ranking of the 50 Best Restaurants.

The list is compiled from an international survey of chefs, restaurateurs and food journalists. And the No. 1 conclusion to draw from it might be that "haute cuisine" now means "wacky."

May I recommend the molecular gastronomy?
The quiet village of Bray, a London suburb in the Berkshire countryside, is home to two restaurants on the list, including the one occupying the top spot, the Fat Duck.

There, Heston Blumenthal, 38, is at the forefront of a radical style of cooking known as "molecular gastronomy."

A popular perception of a top chef is as a painter using the plate as a canvas. But Blumenthal like the style's founding father, Ferran Adria of second-ranked El Bulli in Spain is as much a chemist as an artist.

Chefs like these approach food as a collection of tastes and textures whose attributes may be reduced to their most elemental form, then recast in daring ways.

When a master chef thinks of food in this manner, the results can be startling.

The Fat Duck serves items like sardine-flavored sorbet, snail porridge, or a puree of mango and Douglas fir.

At El Bulli, you might have monkfish liver with tomato seeds and citrus or barnacles with tea foam. Yeast soup may appear on the menu, too.

For some reason, molecular gastronomists really like ice cream. Ferran Adria makes a version that tastes like parmesan cheese. Blumenthal concocts his with smoked bacon and eggs.

In a magazine profile a few years ago, Adria defended his approach as nothing more than ultra-refined technique, married to unusually playful creativity.

"People say, 'Oh, there is all this chemistry at El Bulli!' But there is chemistry and physics in every kitchen, in all cooking," he told Newsweek. "The magic moment, when you find that gelatin can be [transformed into] tagliatelle, I cannot explain."

Whether pasta made out of Jell-o sounds exotic or just silly, there's plenty of method to the madness. Crowded dining rooms and reservations that take a year to get are proof.

So is the fact that these experiments are apparently thrilling to eat. Global adulation by fellow chefs underscores that and lands you on a list of the world's 50 Best Restaurants.

1. The Fat Duck Bray United Kingdom
2. El Bulli Roses Spain
3. French Laundry Yountville, Calif. United States
4. Tetsuya's Sydney Australia
5. Gordon Ramsay London United Kingdom
6. Pierre Gagnaire Paris France
7. Per Se New York United States
8. Tom Aikens London United Kingdom
9. Jean Georges New York United States
10. St John London United Kingdom 11. Michel Bras Laguiole France
12. Louis XV Monte Carlo Monaco
13. Chez Panisse Berkeley United States
14. Charlie Trotter Chicago United States
15. Gramercy Tavern New York United States
16. Guy Savoy Paris France
17. Alain Ducasse Paris France
18. Sketch (Gallery) London United Kingdom
19. The Waterside Inn Bray United Kingdom
20. Nobu London United Kingdom
21. Arzak San Sebastian Spain
22. El Raco de can Fabes San Celoni Spain
23. Checcino dal 1887 Rome Italy
24. Le Meurice Paris France
25. L'Hotel de Ville Crissier Switzerland
26. Arpege Paris France
27. The Connaught London United Kingdom
28. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons Oxford United Kingdom
29. Le Cinq Paris France
30. Hakkasan London United Kingdom
31. Cal Pep Barcelona Spain
32. Masa New York United States
33. Flower Drum Melbourne Australia
34. WD50 New York United States
35. Le Quartier Francais South Africa South Africa
36. Spice Market New York United States
37. Auberge d'Ill Illhauseern-Alsace France
38. Manresa Los Gatos, Calif. United States
39. Dieter Muller Lerbach Germany
40. Trois Gros Roanne France
41. The Wolseley London United Kingdom
42. Rockpool Sydney Australia
43. Yauatcha London United Kingdom
44. The Ivy Barbados United Kingdom
45. Gambero Rosso San Piero in Bagno Italy
46. The Cliff Barbados Barbados
47. Le Gavroche London United Kingdom
48. Enoteca Pinchiorri Florence Italy
49. Felix Hong Kong China
50. La Tupina Bordeaux France

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