Restaurant critics & Restaurant guides, the differences.

Oh yes, it’s that time of year again when the Michelin naysayers come out to play. I’ve written on this subject in the past, it actually feels like an annual event. But after a conversation with Irish restaurant critic Tom Doorley on Twitter, it seems we must re-visit it again.

Like a fair few restaurant critics, Mr Doorley feels that Michelin are beyond reproach, & have made a Dublin eatery wait too long for a star. He cites a tweet that Michelin UK used when announcing the accolades on social media:

When I pointed out to Mr Doorley the flaw in his piece & what the offending five words probably meant, there was very little acknowledgment from him that I might be right. Instead, he, like Rayner & Sitwell before him, will believe that they are right, almost forgetting what their job actually is.

Here are the reasons why the likes of Doorley, Rayner & Sitwell are wrong when it comes to writing about any guide & its results.

  1. They are journalists, their job is to sell copy, whether online or a dead tree version. The fact that they eat out a lot doesn’t make them authorities on the subject. That would be like saying, ‘because I drive a Ferrari, I know how it works & how to fix it’, it just isn’t true.
  2. Rarely, if at all, do any of these writers have any experience of any inspectors, unlike the chefs who they critique. Rayner recently did a shift as a Kitchen Porter & proclaimed he’d survived; I say did a shift, he actually finished two hours before the shift ended, but if that gives him kudos, then more fool his followers.
  3. Michelin will have visited any restaurant they’re considering for a star a multitude of times. From experience, I can tell you it is somewhere in the region of 6-8 times, often as pairs. Tom Doorley has visited the Greenhouse maybe 9 times over a two year period, and each time he’ll have been recognised.
  4. Unlike Doorley, Rayner & Sitwell, Michelin inspectors are anonymous. This doesn’t mean to say that they can’t be spotted, this onerous  task often falls to your experienced front of house staff, at which stage it’s highly unlikely the kitchen will be able to make significant changes.
  5. If the Michelin guide is so flawed & repulsive, then why do restaurant critics so feel the need to keep referencing it? Oh yes, because of the influence it wields. Whilst Rayner claims a positive review from him can generate an extra 500 inquiries to a restaurant, he can’t save a failing restaurant. Michelin recognition has turned the fortunes of places around, The Fat Duck being one.
  6. In Doorley’s piece he rambles on about Michelin’s flaws (& yes, I’ll admit it’s not perfect, but what guide is?), but the one crucial thing he misses, & he would have know this had he spoken to any chef with Michelin star experience, is consistency. This is probably what Michelin UK meant in their tweet. But then why let some research get in the way of a decent tagline?

What really started me on this, other that Doorley’s obsession that The Greenhouse deserved a star last year, was him laying the blame for Bernard Loiseau’s death at the French tyre maker’s door. This really is morally repugnant, as much as Loiseau’s death was a tragedy, not only robbing a family of a loving father & husband, but the world of a highly regarded chef.

If Doorley had done any level of research on Loiseau’s death, & scratched more than the surface, he’d have realised that Gault Millau were actually the guide which demoted his restaurant, and that he was depressed, & despondent about the level of debt his company had. But again why let the notion of somebody being unwell get in the way of a decent story?

There numerous problems with Doorley’s piece; the ‘handing back of stars’, or the understanding of why the island has so few starred restaurants, or this factually incorrect statement:

Japan, on the other hand, is important to Michelin and that’s why Tokyo has more stars per head of population than anywhere else on earth. But don’t go thinking that it’s all down to the food.

If Doorley had done any research he’d know it’s actually Courchevel in France. It has the most Michelin stars per capita: five 2stars and two 1stars with 1700 inhabitants.

Doorley also cites Pascal Remy, a former Michelin inspector, or as Michelin describe him:

an extortion artist with a vivid imagination who demanded money not to publish and was fired for violating the company’s confidentiality rules.

Ultimately more people will probably read Doorley’s account & review of the Michelin guide than this, but the difference between the two? Well that’s easy, this piece is written by a former chef with experience of Michelin, not another AA Gill wannabe who drives a desk.

For those interested, here is Tom Doorley’s piece which was published in the Irish Mail on Sunday

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