They Don’t Give Away Michelin Stars For Nothing
We as people are always in search of something bigger, better, faster, stronger. But isn’t it great when you can enjoy dinner at a restaurant that actually tries to make you happy (and dine with someone who makes you happy) and just simply enjoy the moment, for a moment? I had my first Michelin star dinner in the stunning Italian alps at La Stüa de Michil in the La Perla Hotel in Corvara, Italy. Did they think I was a Michelin inspector? Maybe. (Probably not). As I sit here, back in America, contemplating, munching on a Kinder Bueno (my favorite European candy), wishing I were still in Italy, I think to myself, “What makes a Michelin star meal? Is it any different than any other meal?” The answer is yes.
Once a restaurant is lucky enough to receive a Michelin star, it is periodically visited by Michelin inspectors several times per year. These anonymous inspectors, who are discouraged from revealing their line of work even to family members, are professionally trained to evaluate every aspect of the dining experience. (Are they hiring?!) In the New Yorker article “Lunch with M.”, John Colapinto sits down at Jean Georges with a Michelin inspector and is granted a rare interview. M, as she is called, says “Other kids wanted a Barbie or something. I wanted to go to a three-star restaurant in Paris.”
Being a Michelin star inspector would be a challenge, but one that I would gladly accept. (I can order anything I want and you will pay for it?!) You might see an episode of Dirty Jobs dedicated to the Michelin star inspector: the rigors of eating out, both lunch and dinner, more than two hundred days per year, slowly expanding the waistlines of those inspectors stricken with a slow metabolism. I hope Michelin has a nice health insurance plan.
The Michelin Guide was invented by the French brothers André and Édouard Michelin at the turn of the 20th century to give their tire customers information on where to find a decent meal and where to stay while touring France. It now has star ratings and guides in twenty-three countries. The Michelin Guide has been accused of being “too French” as in Michelin starred restaurants are “too stodgy” or classicaly French. Well, I’m sorry, but the Michelin Guide IS French. They invented it. And foie gras. If you don’t agree with it, don’t pay attention. And don’t eat foie gras.
The starring system was added to the Michelin Guide in 1926 to recognize superior restaurants. Only 1,900 restaurants in the world have been awarded one Michelin star. There are only 81 three Michelin starred establishments worldwide. Sure, there is some debate about whether stars are relevant anymore. It’s true, I don’t think inspectors are going to be visiting any taco trucks on 24th street in Omaha, NE anytime soon, but if you understand what you’re dealing with, a complete fine dining experience, I believe the stars are still relevant. That is not to say that delicious cow tongue tacos are not some of the best grub ever, but you pay $1.50 for a taco that you stand up to eat, not for an experience. All I know is that if I’m going to a Michelin star restaurant, I have certain expectations; higher ones than if I were to go to a non-starred restaurant. That is, they have to work harder to win me over. Give me something I can’t do at home.
A lot of restaurants TRY, but there are not a lot of restaurants that DO. If you were to sit down to dinner in a cozy, tucked away room with candles, pillows, and comfortable benches; were immediately served a glass of champagne (only if you were a lady); were greeted by a waiter who had an air of catering to your every need and would speak one of three languages: Italian, German, or English; would you not be fairly certain that the meal would be on point? Given my work in the restaurant business, I would think once a chef obtains a Michelin star, any member of the service staff or kitchen crew who didn’t consistently have their shit together would be asked to go elsewhere (after a loud and swift reaming). With permission from our tri-lingual waiter, I busted out the Nikon and hoped there was room on its already tired memory card and juice left in its battery. It was one of “those” meals: the company and conversation was as perfect as the food, and the conversation about the food between two lovers of food was enough to make it one of those dinners you will talk about.