Journalists who write about the relevance of Michelin.

Yet again this week a journalist has written about the relevance of the Michelin guide. Clearly these writers have nothing better to scribble about, other than a subject they know little about. The likes of William Sitwell & Jay Rayner, to my knowledge, have minimal front line experience of the French tyre maker’s guide, yet seem to reference it when writing about restaurants & its supposed demise.

Infact, William Sitwell is the editor of Waitrose Kitchen magazine, who coincidently also publish the rival Good Food Guide (GFG). So could there be a potential conflict of interest in slating a rival guide? There is no doubt that GFG is rapidly becoming more relevant in the hierarchy of the guides, but I’m pretty sure that Elizabeth Carter (Consultant Editor for GFG) would prefer its growth to be more organic.

Jay Rayner claimed in an article that a good review from him, can generate an extra 500 enquiries to a restaurant. This is great for business, but the way he then goes on inflate his own importance is ridiculous. He says that an extra 10,000 people will pick up the phone purely on the back of his rave review. This of course is ridiculous and completely unfounded. But I’ll put it to him that a restaurant garnering a Michelin star will see a larger, more sustained influx of eaters. After all Jay your reviews are; today’s news, tomorrows fish & chip paper.

To Sitwell’s credit he did semi partake in lunch service at Marcus Wareing’s 2Michelin starred restaurant in 2010, for the filming of the BBC documentary ‘Madness of perfection’. Badly, it has to be said, but at least he has experienced the coal face. His latest article for The Telegraph proclaims that we no longer care about Michelin’s guide books, or as he puts it “That moment has passed”. Clearly, Sitwell & his nay saying mates, who have the tendency to suck the joy out of food when they write about it, miss the bigger picture.


Bibendum – The Michelin Man

To say that we’re not interested in the little red book, just isn’t true. Every year, without fail sites like this one will see traffic spikes, when Michelin come to unveil their guide. And without exception, in the lead up to the publish date, I get a large influx of messages & emails, asking if there are any leaks or rumours.

Whilst Michelin critics may level the criticism that the guide doesn’t reflect current restaurant trends & that it has ‘lost the plot’. Just shows that they really don’t understand what the guide is all about, just look at how the guide rates its entries:

  •  * is “A very good restaurant in its category”
  •  ** is “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”
  •  *** is “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”

You could actually argue that the definitions are out of date. Gastro-tourism has never been more prevalent. There are a number of reasons for this; the world is a smaller place now, with the growth of the internet, in particular. Yes, there are other influences: Worlds 50 Best; bloggers; forums and social media, yet Michelin has also grown. Originating in France, the red guide is now available in 17 editions worldwide, although the biggest omission seems to be Australia for some reason. It’s not been all plain sailing though, guides for Las Vegas & Los Angeles being suspended.

Sitwell claims in his Telegraph piece, that:

The problem is that, as Michelin tries to modernise itself by awarding stars to those who might not traditionally have won them, it has alienated the very people who were, until now, its rock solid fan base.

Yet in the same piece he claims:

Yet many today feel that these more amateur, word-of-mouth style reviews are of more worth and are more relevant than a guide that appears to salute a particular style of dining: one that lavishes in ironed-linen tablecloths, and in not being able to pour your own wine.

So Mr Sitwell, just to prove what little you know on the subject, despite ‘investigating’ Michelin. I can tell you this; to para-phrase a senior Michelin inspector:

“You can serve the food in a converted bus shelter, on paper plates, by a waiter wearing jeans, and if it is good enough, then we’ll give it a star”.

Just to pull a few more holes in the tripe you’ve written; L’enclume doesn’t have table cloths,Sat Bains doesn’t have them on his chefs table either and Marcus Wareing is re-launching his eponymous eatery, again without table cloths. These are all 2 Michelin starred restaurants, and I’m sure that there are more which will shatter the ill educated claims of Sitwell & co.

The importance of Michelin isn’t underestimated by chefs. Several chefs have told me the impact of gaining a star, One restaurant in particular was facing closure, before gaining the accolade. In fact, Heston Blumenthal has attributed the elevation of The Fat Duck in Michelin’s estimation, to saving it from financial ruin.

Another side effect of gaining a Michelin star is the staffing of your restaurant. There’s no doubting that it takes dedication & sacrifice to work at this level, probably something that Sitwell & co fail to comprehend when they write about the demise of the guide. Very few guides make such an impact on a chef’s (or waiter’s) CV, than saying that they’ve worked for a number of years in starred establishments. Hardens, AA & Good Food Guide, just don’t carry the same kudos for one reason or another.

If the critics wanted to knock Michelin, then they’ve missed a trick. When Michelin decided to enter the US market, they rolled out the big guns. Stellar chefs such as Keller & Ducasse were used in promotional situations to raise the profile of the guide. Surely the conflict of interests, that Sitwell could possibly identify with.

I put it to Sitwell & Rayner when they write such hyperbole, STOP IT!! Your job is to sell copy, and if you’ve run out of ideas that you have to try to be controversial, then it’s time to give up, do something else. You’re just not edgy, renegade or maverick enough to pull it off, instead it just looks like that you’re having some middle life foodie crisis.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have spent so much effort in writing this post. Maybe I’d have tweeted about how silly these critics look, almost craving attention like their contracts are up for renewal. But instead, I wanted to point out the hypocrisy that these pens for hire spew out, if paid enough. They’re not consistent in their views, on the subject which they’ve made their names in. I can accept that food is subjective, as is the Michelin guide & The Worlds 50 Best. What I fail to comprehend, is that if the French tyre company’s guide is so bad & irrelevant, then why do such critics constantly refer to it?

Leave a Reply