Ok before we get started I want to make one thing clear, I have nothing against food guides or the amazing chefs that are awarded Michelin stars. I have friends and colleagues who hold or have held stars, they are influential and talented chefs producing delicious food.
What I want to discuss is the reasoning and responsibility of the Michelin guide when awarding stars. As much as I love many starred restaurants others leave me dismayed to imagine that they share equal footing with other incredible dining experiences. The hype of the white Michelin man and his shiny stars are starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE?
This is where the first issue begins. It’s well know that the Michelin guide bases its judgment solely on food without considering the overall experience. It’s romantic in some ways, but also takes away from dining being an actual experience. Yes, I understand the history of the guide being a travel booklet designed to get more motorists on the road and encourage them to travel while suggesting great dinning stops along the way (based solely on the food).
But it’s not 1889 anymore and no one has a Michelin guides in their car. For the more than half a century following it’s driving days the guide maintained clear, strict and sometimes brutal judgment of the restaurants that graced its pages. It’s only the later 10-15+ years where things seemed to soften, as if the guide was desperate for new restaurants in it’s pages vs selecting only the finest few.
Now let’s talk about dining experience. Yeah, yeah I know it’s based solely on food, but is it really as simple as that anymore and can all other experiences count for nothing? An incredible dining experience has nothing to do with money spent on decor and crockery, it’s about the journey and perception of the diner. Food plays a part in what makes a great dining experience but all the other elements, especially service can’t be ignored for the sake of food. I have been to numerous restaurants where the food is amazing but the service and general atmosphere are so terrible we finish the food quickly vowing never to return, especially when associated with Michelin prices.
This will get you stars:
Quality of Product / Mastery of Flavor / Cooking Technique / Personality Of The Chef / Consistency of Product.
This has no effect on stars:
Service Quality / Dining Experience / Atmosphere or Ambience / Interior decor / Overall Experience
I respect the importance being placed on food but will always disagree with the overall experience having no effect the rating, as if completely unimportant. In this instance the guide stood still while the dining world evolved around its Michelin bubble, dining today is all about the experience which encompasses more than only what’s on the plate.
This is most relevant with the latest additions of street vendors to receive stars in Singapore & Thailand, I have eaten both and they are undeniably delicious, but star material? When discussing this with chef and non chef friends we came to the conclusion that these vendors have the best version in that part of town only. They are being recognised for something that is not necessarily original, unique or the best of its kind. I think in this case categories dividing the guide would help readers understand the ranking, especially when awarding stars to every day items like chicken soup & crab omelettes.
Also Din Thai Fung, I love this place and have eaten it in Australia, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. The guide is based on food alone but only Hong Kong has 1 Michelin star even though this is a world wide chain with super standardised recipes. Also we believe that if HK has one then the Thailand outlet at Central World should have two as it’s undoubtably more delicious.
WHO ARE THE STARS FOR?
Michelin Star chefs are everywhere, in the last 13 years the worlds population of starred chefs has nearly tripled. This was following the inclusion of the Americas, China and Japan into the illustrious guides pages. But don’t be confused by the Michelin stared chef who is featuring at the latest pop-up or hotel wine dinner, there are no Michelin starred chefs only starred restaurants.
When the chef leaves the star will stay to be maintained, it doesn’t follow the chef when he/she moves restaurants or opens up there own place – they must be earned all over again. Stars belong the the kitchen team as a whole and are awarded to restaurants never individuals. It stays true with the tradition of what the Michelin guide was created to be – a gentleman’s guide to dining around France & Europe celebrating restaurants not chefs.
Today this is out of focus with head chefs sold as marketing tools and media gimmicks. Stars are big bucks, and Michelin chefs fill restaurants, just remember they didn’t do it alone. It’s almost like saying the coach of a championship basketball team is the only one to receive a ring or if you remove key team members the result would be the same. Sorry, there are no Michelin starred chefs only Michelin starred restaurants.
THE JAPANESE CONNECTION
So Japan has more Michelin stars than any other country on earth and are we really that surprised? It seems to me that if the Japanese get interested in anything it will become an obsession and soon enough they will become the best at doing what ever they choose.
Also if you think about the way they eat and the respect that’s given to food it’s no wonder stars are literally raining down in Japan. It’s as if the Michelins criterial for winning stars itself was based on the way Japanese chefs treat food, it’s all about doing few things while preparing it as perfectly every single time. Yeah, there was drama originally from the Europeans when so many stars were awarded to Japanese restaurants, but following a trip to Japan and closer inspection the noise died down pretty quickly.
I also believe that in this case the Michelin guide helped shine light on the depth of Japanese cuisine highlighting how progressive and simultaneously timeless the cuisine really is. Also traditionally the Japanese studied European cuisine to build more technique now its the Europeans & Americans lining up to learn more about the subtle flavors and techniques of Japanese cuisine.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
It seems to me that the guide has survived on it’s name alone without any real opposition or competition, some would say without ever being questioned. There was a time when no one knew anything about food, chefs were mysterious, staying behind in the kitchen without needing edgy personalities or good looks to survive. There were no cooking shows or celebrity chefs and there was definitely no social media or public restaurant review sites.
Today the hospitality industry has evolved and people’s knowledge and expectations along with it, it’s a completely different beast. Everyone knows everything and most of the mystery surrounding food and kitchens has all but disappeared, its less about the food then ever before and more focused on the experience. Rare ingredients are readily available at every hotel with Michelin starred and worlds 50 bests chefs hosting wine dinners and special events every weekend.