Hélène Pietrini is managing director of La Liste, which issues an annual global restaurant ranking.
What attracted you to gastronomy?
I started at Relais and Châteaux before moving to London and working at 50 Best, during which I really discovered gastronomy globally. I relocated to France just before Covid and began at La Liste. I’m not a critic or a journalist but I’m a businesswoman who travels the world to visit restaurants, meet chefs and organise culinary events.
How does the process for La Liste work?
We manage a database of 30,000 restaurants in 200 countries, which is updated daily. Every time a restaurant is in a guide or ranking, gets a score or review somewhere, we spot that feature and reference it in the database and restaurant finder app.
Once a year we have an algorithm which calculates a mark out of 100 based on those sources in order to rank the top 1,000 restaurants in the world. It’s like the ranking of the rankings. We aggregate everything.
To reveal the top 1,000 and the special awards, we organise culinary events – the biggest one is in Paris at the end of November.
How can we promote inclusivity in the gastronomy world?
I can do lots of things through my job. High-end restaurants are mainly managed by male, white chefs. When I was at 50 Best, we created a 50/50 panel.
My main motivation when I do culinary events and special awards at La Liste is to make sure that the selection of people is diverse, to mix old and new generations, all continents and all types of cooking. What is really rewarding is to see people travelling from long distances meeting and connecting.
What’s been your most rewarding travel experience?
The 50 Best event in Macau. We spent one night in Hong Kong and ate at six restaurants. Then we went to Macau for Asia’s 50 Best event, and then flew to Shanghai for 24 hours. It was a crazy trip, I was exhausted.
And most challenging?
I’ve had more adventures with my scuba gear – cases lost, delayed or forgotten at home.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai is still my number one. You are picked up in a van and taken to a secret location. There are 360-degree projections and one unique ten-seat table. It offers refined dishes and funny dishes like DIY croque monsieur and Coca-Cola duck skin. It’s special and very well organised.
What do you cook at home?
Home cooking is a religion in my family. We never buy frozen or ready-made. 80 per cent of recipes are from my mother or grandmother, and I make all the traditional French dishes – from pot-au-feu to roasted chicken.
What are the culinary trends for 2023?
The ecosystem of the restaurant has become even more important for chefs. It’s about going back to culinary traditions and indigenous ingredients. Lots of cuisines with a heritage previously ignored by chefs are now back into sophisticated restaurants. This is an interesting trend as it will help to create a more diverse gastronomy world.
Another trend that you can see more in Europe, is the return to comfort food – bourgeois home cooking. Restaurants where you can eat dishes including pot-au-feu, blanquette, soufflé and vol au vent.
What are some up-and-coming restaurants we should have on our radar?
The Michelin-starred plant-based Kle in Zurich, and Aux Lyonnais in Paris which serves traditional bistro food. Chef Marie Victorine Manoa at Aux Lyonnais was awarded the New Talent award at La Liste.
What’s your dream destination?
Soneva Fushi hotel in the Maldives. It ticks all the boxes. The service and food is amazing – you eat up in the trees and ingredients are grown on-site.
What is your indispensable travel gadget?
I always have a food bag because I hate plane food and I’m always worried if there’s a long transit.
What’s your inflight entertainment pick?
I love working on planes. There’s no phone calls so I can focus on my computer and catch up on work.