It's impossible to understand why the Michelin Guide doles out stars to some restaurants while completely ignoring others. And it's even harder to grasp why the organization decides to demote restaurants or strip them of their stars completely when there have been no apparent changes in quality or style from year to year — see Annisa, Lincoln, or Daniel. To understand the inner-workings of the Michelin organization, Vanity Fair's Sam Kashner talks to chefs, restaurateurs, writers, an anonymous inspector, and the guide's international director, Michael Ellis. The whole story is worth a read if you care about the history of the little red book and its influence on the dining world, but here are the best quotes from the feature about Michelin Madness:
— Daniel Boulud, whose restaurant Daniel was demoted from three stars to two last year:
I know many of the three-star Michelins never change their menu in order to have perfect consistency...It’s basically robotic cuisine; they cannot afford to change, because that was the winning formula…. Emotionally, I’m going to want to cook something else than what I’ve done.
— Anthony Bourdain: "The only people who really care about Michelin stars in New York are French guys…. We could live without it quite nicely. I don’t know how the game works, but I think it’s bullshit that Daniel lost a star—it’s utter bullshit."
— Ahmass Fakahany, CEO of the Altamarea Group: "Michelin is the global currency. People are flying into New York from Asia, from Latin America. It’s a marker for the global traveler… I have yet to see someone who has one who hasn’t hung it up in their restaurant."
— Bill Buford, the author of Heat, on Boulud:
He’s known all his life what it means to be a three-star Michelin chef. It’s a very elite club. There’s no question that he belongs in that club. It was a very big deal for him to be officially recognized—and then, to take it away! It just feels irresponsible…. I don’t get the sense that Michelin is corrupt, but I don’t think it’s as impartial as it pretends to be.
Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides: "Stars are not given to a chef...It’s not like an Oscar—it’s not a physical thing. It’s really an opinion. It’s recognition."
— Eric Ripert, chef/co-owner of Le Bernardin:
I think it’s a mistake to be obsessed with ratings...It’s like an actor who becomes obsessed with winning the Oscar and he forgets about acting…. When I wake up in the morning and I come to work, I don’t think about stars and ratings—Michelin or The New York Times. I’m busy running the restaurant, mentoring, and living my passion.
An anonymous Michelin inspector: "The stars are awarded for what’s on the plate. It doesn’t have to be in an overly opulent setting."
— Daniel Humm, chef of Eleven Madison Park:
I almost appreciated being the restaurant that was underrated—it’s kind of a beautiful place to be. It’s a lot easier to exceed expectations. Then Michelin moved us from one to three, right away. You can’t deny it—it’s an unbelievable feeling to get three Michelin stars…. It was a goal so big that I was afraid of even the thought.
— Daniel Boulud, again:
I hope they will continue to watch me closely and see the changes I’ve continued to make…. I have seen two presidents at Michelin, I have seen eight food critics at The New York Times,and I’m still standing, taking pleasure every day at what I do…. I accept the loss, but I will not accept for my team to think we are now disqualified as the best restaurant in New York, and in America.
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