As the latest round of Michelin stars are announced, hope, longing and fear will be the main dishes on the menu for aspiring chefs.
Many of the country’s more ambitious chefs will be more antsy than usual today. Not always the most even-tempered of professions, the nation’s pan-rattlers are likely to find that their nerves are tauter than is customary. That they are more jumpy. Itchy in their skin.
For today, Wednesday 16 February, The Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland will announce which restaurants will be gaining new stars, which will maintain their stars, and which will lose theirs. The awards will take place via the guides social media channels, and they will make and break both reputations and businesses.
What the Stars Mean
The stars are not the only symbol the guide uses to rate restaurants, but they are the most sought after. One star indicates ‘A very good restaurant in its category’. Two stars means ‘Excellent cooking, worth a detour’. Three stars scream ‘You are a culinary god who will shortly start spouting nonsense about how your cooking is inspired by the wonder of nature; the alignment of the planets or your latest ayahuasca trip’. Oh no, sorry. That’s a typo. Three stars represent ‘Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’.
Originally devised as a way of encouraging motorists to take more trips, burn more rubber and consequently buy more Michelin tyres, the restaurant guidebook started out as a freebie publication in the late 19th century. From these simple origins, it has grown like the waistband of a diner eating an eighteen-course tasting menu. More than 30 million copies have now been sold and the Michelin inspectors’ rate more than 40,000 restaurants in 24 territories across three continents.
For those that are awarded stars, their reputations will be polished and their creativity validated. They can expect bookings to rocket in the next few weeks. Diners can expect the prices to do the same.
Some chefs, who may have been living in hope of a nod from the tyre sellers, will be at best frustrated if their winning ways with wasabi or their knock-out sea trout have not been recognised. Others, specifically those who suffer the ignominy of losing a star, will be heart-broken. Losing a star will not necessarily close a restaurant but it will put a significant dent in bookings. Put simply, stars mean bums on well upholstered seats.
Not Everyone is a Star-Gazer
The guide has its knockers. Criticism levelled against it, at various times, include that that it is too elitist, too French, too old school. Some might think that all three of those complaints are pretty much one and the same. They may have a point. But it does not really matter.
Chefs might bitch about what they see as the overly powerful influence of the Michelin Guide. They might grumble about its criteria for inclusion and ratings. Some fret that having a Michelin star changes the expectations of their guests in unwelcome ways.
However, it is the only award that really counts in their eyes and in those of their peers. Rival guides may be just as rigorous in their selection and grading of restaurants, but they do not have the prestige of Michelin.
No chef is going to turn down a handful of AA Rosettes but nor will they ink their skin with a tattoo of them in the same way that some chefs do with their Michelin stars. It might be cool to affect disdain for the guide or denounce them as old hat. And yet, given the option, many chefs would happily spatchcock their grandmother if it put them within sniffing distance of a star.
Famously in 1994, having achieved three Michelin stars, the ultimate accolade, Marco Pierre White returned them in 1999. The original bad boy of British kitchens, he has explained that he turned his back on Michelin because he was bored
“You are this well-oiled machine, which turns it out every day with extreme consistency. You don’t change your menus because you have achieved. You don’t take high risks because you have three stars from Michelin to protect.”-Marco Pierre White
Marco may not have relished his Michelin status but, as today’s awards are announced, many chefs will be wishing that they were facing that particular three-starred problem.
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