Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Increasing Irrelevance Of Michelin Stars

There has long been a perception that Michelin stars are becoming increasingly irrelevant in these belt-tightening times. So it will do nothing for the tyre guide’s credibility and fading reputation to learn that it has awarded a star to a Normandy seafood restaurant that closed two months ago due to a lack of customers.

When parting with their hard-earned cash, people should feel confident following Michelin’s expert assessment – surely that’s the whole point of its so-called bible.

Alright, we all know food and service awards are highly subjective at the best of times, and should be taken with a big bucket of salt, but not knowing a restaurant has shut shows a basic lack of research. Surely a last minute ring round is essential if you’re reviewing a place months before the guide comes out – as the inspectors obviously did.

You can only imagine the red faces at Michelin after it emerged its 2011 France guide, published on Monday, had finally given a star to Les Hêtres in Ingouville-sur-Mer (below), not knowing it served its last meal in December.

Chef Max Bichot, 52, said: "If I had been given the star earlier, it might have made all the cooking was just as good before."

He heard about the posthumous gong from a former employee, and was told the inspectors were delighted with his "baby mackerel in white wine and citrus juice" and "red snapper fillet on a bed of ratatouille and rosemary."

In a sign of the decline of top-end dining, and the growth of good quality “middle market” restaurants, it was the first time Michelin’s Bib Gourmand restaurants (which offer three-course menus that cost €35 (£30) or less in Paris, and €29 (£24) or less elsewhere) outnumbered the starred venues. Bib eateries are those that are considered to offer “good food at reasonable prices”.

Also, it was the first time since 1992 that no new restaurant was promoted to three stars. And in an attempt to distance itself from claims that it is elitist, Michelin has hooked up with 1,000 restaurants across France for the launch of its ‘Printemps du guide Michelin’ – which gives food-lovers discounts at participating establishments for three months.

Not surprisingly, more and more chefs are moving away from the stresses of Michelin-starred cooking, and its deplorable 18-hour days, to a more normal life cooking in wallet-friendly restaurants.

You might think Bichot would be depressed knowing he can’t reopen Les Hêtres (which has been sold and is being converted into a private house) to cash in on his success – but not a sausage.

"I had the good fortune to fall in love with a woman who has a seafood restaurant at Yport,” he said. “I am going to help her out in her kitchen – with no pressure."