(CNN) — If there’s ever a bad night to eat out — not including that time you ordered those mussels — it’s the one when all the planet’s top chefs skip work to find out if their restaurants have finally been named the world’s best.
This year, culinary masterminds from five continents gathered in the Spanish port city of Bilbao for an award ceremony to name the 50 best fine dining joints for 2018 and, most importantly, crown a champion.
For 2018, the top prize went to Italy’s Osteria Francescana and head chef Massimo Bottura, whose dazzling and sometimes surreal reworkings of classic Italian recipes saw him return to the top spot he first held in 2016.
There were few other surprises in the top three of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, with last year’s third placers and 2015 winner El Celler de Can Roca, taking second place and France’s Mirazur, fourth last year, take third.
Eleven Madison Park — the 2017 winner which spent part of the year closed for renovations — was bumped down to fourth.
“We built this together,” Bottura told the packed auditorium of the Palacio Euskalduna in Bilbao, where many of his contemporaries were gathered. “I’m not going to disappoint you, I’m going to show the world that chefs in 2018 are much more than the sum of their recipes if we stay together. “
While European eateries continued to dominate the awards, known as the Oscars of the fine dining world, all five continents were represented, with Bangkok’s Gaggan at five on the list and Lima’s Central at six.
Also notable was the continuing domination of men at the top of the gastronomic game. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ prize for female chef of the year is often criticized for its shortcomings in addressing this.
This year’s recipient, Clare Smyth of London’s Core restaurant, took the opportunity to raise the issue while also speaking to wider concerns of welfare among overworked kitchen employees.
“I’m constantly being asked why we have a lack of female chefs, why we don’t see more women represented at the top level … and why don’t we have more diversity,” she said. “I don’t have the answers.”
She said the industry needed to create better working environments and make restaurants an equal and “more human workplace for both men and women.”
“We must draw a line under this and make sure we clear a path for the next generation. I for one can’t wait until we achieve equality and the debate moves on.”
Other significant prizes included the Lifetime Achievement Award, which went to Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio of Astrid y Gastón. France’s Cédric Grolet won Best Pastry Chef and Spain’s Azurmendi took a prize for sustainability.
According to organizers, the results were compiled from an “independent” voting panel of 1,000 judges that were subject to adjudication.
The prize ceremony began with tributes to culinary legends who have passed in the preceding year. Among them Gualtiero Marchesi, the first Italian chef ever to receive three Michelin stars, and French “pope of gastronomes” Paul Bocuse.
Anthony Bourdain, the CNN presenter, writer and chef who often railed against the kind of fine dining establishments celebrated by the awards, was also remembered.
“His honesty, his determination and his stubborn truth telling changed our industry for the better,” said William Drew, group editor of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
The world’s 50 best restaurants
5. Gaggan (Bangkok) *best restaurant in Asia*
6. Central (Lima, Peru) *best restaurant in South America*
13. Pujol (Mexico City, Mexico)
17. Den (Tokyo, Japan) *highest climber*
18. Disfrutar (Barcelona, Spain) *highest new entry*
20. Attica (Melboure, Australia)
25. Cosme (New York City)
28. Odette (Singapore) *new entry*
30. D.O.M. (São Paulo, Brazil)
31. Arzak (San Sebastian, Spain)
35. Maaemo (Oslo, Norway) *new entry*
36. Reale (Castel Di Sangro, Italy)
38. Lyle’s (London) *new entry*
43. Azurmendi (Larrabetzu, Spain) *sustainable restaurant award*
44. Mikla (Istanbul, Turkey) *new entry*
49. Nahm (Bangkok, Thailand)
50. Test Kitchen (Cape Town, South Africa) *Africa’s best restaurant*