“Consult the MICHELIN Guide gastronomic destinations around the world and discover the best restaurants and talents.”
Every year a little red book is published, a book in which specific gastronomic ‘experts’ judge and rate the very finest of the culinary world. They do this by dishing (ha-ha) out up to a maximum of three stars to whom they believe to be the best deserving restaurants and restaurateurs alike. That book is called the Michelin guide. The same company that make car tyres. Cuisine…and car tyres.
Just a few days ago, the 2020 Michelin guide removed a star from Paul Bocuse’s restaurant, ending its 55-year record of being a 3-star establishment. Subsequently generating an eruption of controversy in France.
Food critic Périco Légasse called it "an absurd and unfair decision".
"Michelin cannot be so stupid," he ever so passionately believes. "Today its discredit is total, the institution is dead," in reference to the Michelin Guide.
The knuckles of Michelin simply rage scarlet with the unrelenting grip that they hold over the culinary world. The influence they have over the chefs and restaurants is simply mind boggling, and has in-fact even proved to be dangerous at times.
The lengths chef's push themselves and those around them to achieve a star in this holy book, borders on brutal.
You’ve seen Gordon Ramsey (holds 7 stars) on TV, shouting and screaming at cowering sous chefs, hiding behind beads of sweat from a failed souffle. You may have also seen Ramsey’s original mentor, Marco-Pierre White (held 3 stars) who actually made Ramsey himself cry whilst working for him. White was dubbed the first celebrity chef, who infamously called the working life in his kitchen as “the SAS of cooking”.
Both have been embroiled in controversy and lawsuits throughout their careers, but their actions in the kitchen whilst on the hunt for another star, or to retain a star, can simply be deemed assault. A young chef at Harvey’s (White’s restaurant) once complained about the excessive heat in the kitchen, the back of his chef’s whites was promptly slashed open by a knife wielding Marco. I’m sure he’d simply mistook him for a salmon. Ramsey on the other hand, on camera for any one of his earlier shows, can be seen throwing staff around at will.
Remember, this is all in aid of the great pursuit of a star, from a car tyre manufacturer.
In 1999 White gave his stars back when he became disillusioned with Michelin and what they stood for:
"I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself. I had three options: I could be a prisoner of my world and continue to work six days a week, I could live a lie and charge high prices and not be behind the stove or I could give my stars back, spend time with my children and re-invent myself."
Not all chef’s joined White’s rebellion however, for Michelin to them was still the only voice that mattered to them.
In 2003, tragedy befell a prominent French restaurant due to the pressures of Michelin. Bernard Loiseau, head chef and owner of La Côte d'Or, had heard speculation that Michelin were planning to remove one of his 3 stars as a result of the restaurants failure to keep itself aligned with new trends. Having once confided in fellow chef Jacques Lameloise that if he were to ever lose a star, he would kill himself. Loiseau worked a full day in the kitchen, then shot himself in the head with a shotgun.
Michelin will always generate controversy. They are slated by critics for being bias towards French cooking, and it’s not surprising. French cooking has been the staple for a Michelin star. Plain and simple. Even if the restaurant is not in France, in London or New York per say, you can bet your life it will be heavily influenced by French cuisine.
In recent times Michelin have hit back, saying the food that they hold in the highest esteem is not all pompous, French, expensive, extravagant and complicated. As proved when in 2011, amazingly, a small dim-sum restaurant in Hong Kong, received a Michelin star. Becoming both the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, and also the most glaringly obvious PR move.
Michelin should not hold as much power over an industry as it does. It’s at times even poisonous when you consider the suicide of Bernard Loiseau, and the behaviour of chefs when trying to appease the guide. I don’t doubt this brochure of poncey restaurants will endure. I will continue to eat frozen horse from Tesco, turn my nose up at fois grois and life will go on. For those still bending over for Michelin however, I doubt will have such an easy time.