by Gino De Blasio | 7 Minute Read
What does, the Clove Club in Shoreditch, the Soho tapas bar, Barrafina, Indian curry house, Gymkhana, the Star Inn in Yorkshire and now, the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in Singapore have in common?
Long gone are the days that a Michelin Star was handed out to a French sounding, or French food serving restaurant; holding a baguette, wearing a beret or speaking down at someone’s non French wine decision means that you were a shoe-in for a Michelin Star approach or a cameo appearance in a BBC 16 part language course (1).
However, the awarding of a Michelin star to a street food diner in Singapore has caused a bit of a raised eyebrow or two; we can only assume this was to the Parisien cafe dweller. Whilst other national food establishments have been selected and awarded the gilded guide of excellence, it seems that a street food stall was making a mockery of the award.
An award whose history is tinged with irony; a tyre manufacturer produced a guide of establishments where you could go to eat. “The company began making atlases which included certain restaurants on different routes. At that time, one star meant the restaurant was worthy of a stop along the way; two stars meant it was worth a detour and three stars that you ought to make a special journey to visit the restaurant.”
In today’s modern society, the difference between one Michelin star to three Michelin stars is the same difference as wanting to be Frasier from the hit TV series, Frasier, or actually being Kelsey Grammer, the man who played Frasier, in the hit TV series, Frasier.
The societal importance around Michelin stars has equally become the bargaining chip of many a middle class discussion. “I ate at Gavroche” “the Fat Duck is just the best” etc etc. You didn’t cook the meal, you simply waited long enough and stored away all savings to be able to afford yet another fancy themed tea party; the truth sometimes hurts.
Whilst the essence of a Michelin Star is apparently the same, as established 90 years ago, it can’t be anything further from the truth. It has become a torrid reminder than such awards means that your final dining cheque now exceeds the national debt of a small sovereign nation; self justifying the award and why American Express is the preferred choice of payment; PayPal (2) is not, sorry Elon Musk.
With only 120 inspectors worldwide, travelling over 18,000 miles a year and a free cholesterol test every 6 months, you’d think being an inspector is a great job. So secretive is the life of Michelin food inspector however, you are more likely to know about the training required to get into the military special forces than ever becoming an inspector yourself.
And herein lies part of the problem. Transparency, moreover, lack of transparency.
How can an award for a dining experience be hinged so carefully on the opinion of so few, without ever knowing what it is they are basing their opinions on? What is the criteria for such an award, a stag’s head on display in the south eastern corner of the establishment? The colour of the rose’, clue, it’s rose’ (3)… and so on.
The second problem lies in the blatant and somewhat brazen snobbery of awarding such plaudits to restaurants that only fit this fantasmagorical judging criteria; Italy has 334 Michelin Stars to France’s 600; apparently Italian cuisine isn’t plated in a sophisticated way according to one former inspector. London has 65 Michelin Stars to its name whilst New York has 75; yet the biggest criticism from Chefs, food bloggers and even former inspectors is this, how do these restaurants reflect the modern way we eat in today’s very different society to that of 1926?
For some years, the Michelin Guide was seen as a way of rewarding chefs, their brilliance which is tinged with depression, anger, high levels of alcoholism and suicide (more than any other profession) and relational strife. As Vanity Fair put it in 2012, “Chefs work when others are having fun. They don’t have real friends. Their marriages don’t work; their children don’t like them. And no one ever invites a chef round for dinner. But the Michelin guide took them seriously, showed them respect.”
And yet now, the Michelin Guide is seen almost to be a poisoned chalice for both chef, front of house staff, restaurant investors and even patrons.
Spanish chef, Julio Biosca gave up his Michelin star after it caused stress and the lack of experimentation that it inadvertently brought to his menu. The Rap Duo Milli Vanilli(4) know all about handing something back, a grammy, their self-esteem… Biosca wasn’t the only one to hand back his Michelin recognition, Joel Robuchon, Alain Senderens, Antoine Westermann, and Olivier Roellinger, all from France, made the same decision for various reasons.
The awarding of a Michelin Star can have a dramatic bump in sales and reservations, Ferran Adria’s El Bulli would have 2 million people looking to reserve a place with only a few thousand getting the pleasure every year, not bad for a three star restaurant winning more awards than a sub-par Adele album within weeks of release.
As much as the irritating food critic is a barometer of what is good or bad they surely stand a better chance of demonstrating where you should be going to eat than a guide which has become as equally inaccessible as faux grandiloquence in its nature of awarding great food.
If this was an award for what is a great film and Gerard Depardieu was winning year upon year, you can be assured that Jada Pinkett Smith would be the first person on YouTube screaming “equality for all actors and not just the French ones”.
In a world where an Instagram account can attract more views on your food, a Twitter handle more pomp than a Liberace entrance and hundreds of review sites perfectly suited to making or breaking the reputation of a chef or service for the evening (with the right to reply), then is it really necessary that you need a Michelin Star?
If anything the Michelin star needs to have more street food, more pubs, more kebab shops if it is to truly reflect the essence of how we eat, why we eat and what is actually good food. It seems we’re missing that final point; what is good food and where can we get it. Price tag, location, decor, they form the dining experience, but it doesn’t or moreover, shouldn’t take away from the skill and hours of training needed in preparing great food.
The telling thing about this latest Michelin Star and how we, as a society declare our pompous attitude to food is this factual statement from Guardian journalist, Kristen Han. “He works 17-hour days in his tiny kitchen selling 180 chickens – 30 more than before his award was made public.”
Anyone willing to work 17 hours a day, serving people food deserves a Michelin Star, even if it doesn’t really matter.
- The BBC has for several years provided a wide range of language courses for many a European language. Some see this very approach as anti-British, they all missed the language section where they were asked to point and shout in English to make sense.
- Elon Musk created PayPal because we can only assume he lived with people stealing his card details whilst doing online shopping, that, and it’s easy to use for online transactions.
- Rose’ is still a bone of contention after discovering in 2015 that young men, in their 20s, were calling the joined up drinking of the wine, Brose’. It reeks of pathetic innuendo and pseudo stupidity.
- Milli Vanilli were an 80’s rap duo band that unfortunately were found to be lip syncing and handed back their grammy awards. Girl You Know It’s True, was their major hit, or someone else’s moreover.