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Gordana Popović i Heinz Beck

Heinz Beck, chef, La Pergola, sa 3 Michelin zvijezde i naša suradnica Gordana Popović

Chasing The Michelin Stars: Why Do We Believe Them

With more than million copies sold in a year and many millions sold in over 110 years of publishing, Michelin guide is a must have publication for the modern globtrotter. Michelin is a French oompany that publishes 15 million maps, atlases, tourist guides, and restaurant and hotel guides per year, in over 90 countries. In total this guide brings a selection of 27,470 restaurants around the globe. The guide provides advice and suggestions from the expert staff of ninety who are involved in this uncommon line of work. Seventy of them are Europe based, and ten member team covers each the United States and Asia. They spend their time on the road and in restaurants and hotels, looking for just the right place— one that they know readers will appreciate. Unfortunately, there is no Michelin does not cover Croatia yet. „For the time being Croatia is not a country selected in the main Cities of Europe guide. Michelin guide covers 20 countries in Europe and it will of course continue to expand and cover more countries, but now it’s yet too early to tell you when Croatian restaurants and hotels will be selected“ – that was Michelin’s PR answer to our question on Croatian restaurants getting involved in their guide. But for those who can’t wait to rate the ratings in Croatia, the guide covers our neighboring countries. In Italy, for example, there are 8 Michelin three star rated restaurants, 40 two stars and 280 one star restaurants. Austria has a somewhat more modest number of rated restaurants – 12 one star restaurants and 2 with two Michelin stars.

The criteria for star awards

The criteria for star awards were introduced in the late 1930s and are still used today: one star denoting ”a very good restaurant,”two stars ”worth a detour” and three stars ”worth a special journey“.

The criteria are the same whatever the country. Let’s not forget that the stars are only in the plate meaning that they judge only the quality of the food, as for the decor, the ambience, the quality of the service, etc that level of comfort is symbolized by the “fork & spoon” pictogram going from 1 (simple place) to 5 (palace, luxurious place). Investing in silverware and valet parking will increase the number of forks and spoons (for a restaurant) or in pavilions (for a hotel) but will have no impact on the number of stars. Serving outstanding dishes will have no influence on a restaurant’s level of comfort, but may have an impact on the number of stars. The two categories are totally separate.

It is not all about luxury, there are pictograms like Bib Gourmand restaurants, which offer very good value for money and were featured for the first time in 1997. Another pictogram, „good value money“ representing two coins, indicates restaurants that serve an affordable, three-course meal. The Bib Hotel pictogram alerts readers to hotels offering high-quality services and amenities at an affordable price.

For a regular Michelin restaurant visitors who are booking their trips based on the dates when they finally got the reservation in one of the highly desirable restaurants, Michelin guide is somewhat like a Bible, containing all the chefs names and contacts to make reservation.

Chasing the Michelin stars around the world is not easy since it takes several months, even a year, to get the table in 3 star rated ones. There is sometimes a sense of disappointment when you finally get in the best rated ones and wonder why is that restaurant rated with two stars and the other one that you enjoyed more had only one.

How do Michelin guide inspectors do those ratings

The process involves a number of steps—visiting hotels and restaurants, checking information, writing the text and laying out the guide. Editor in chief determines the territories to be visited and assigns inspectors to each. Michelin staff is searching for the best places to have a meal or spend the night. Michelin inspectors make regular and anonymous visits to hotels and restaurants. They settle their own bill and may then introduce themselves and ask for more information about establishment.

La Pergola, wine cellar

A year in the life of a Michelin guide restaurant and hotel critic can be summed up in a few figures. Traveling anonymously, each critic tastes approximately 250 meals in restaurants and spends around 150 nights in hotels and guesthouses. He or she also visits more than 800 establishments and writes 1,100 reports. For country guide inspectors, this represents around 30000 km on the road. Averaging around 40 years old, restaurant and hotel critics may be married and have children or they may be single. Most have attended hotel management school, and then worked for five to ten years in the hospitality industry before applying for a job with the Michelin guide. Following a series of interviews and lunch with a senior hotel and restaurant critic (after which applicants write a ”fresh eyes”report, in particular to demonstrate their attention to detail), the new critic embarks on a six-month training period during which he or she will learn about the criteria for awarding stars, assigning comfort categories and assessing other amenities. During these six months, new hires will test restaurants in the company of a senior inspector before being given an initial solo assignment in their country.

Three weeks a month on the road

Critics generally spend three weeks on the road every month, looking for the best hotels and restaurants. They discover, test and confirm establishments that either will be included in the selection or, on the contrary, will be removed from the guide. For the fourth week, they return to the office, where they submit their reports and are debriefed by the editor-in-chief. Decisions are then made as to which hotels and restaurants to include in the selection, which should be removed because of a decline in quality, which will be awarded the Bib Gourmand or Bib Hotel pictogram, and which chefs have crossed to a threshold that moves them to higher levels in their careers. As for the stars, they are awarded in special meetings, held twice a year and attended by the editor-in-chief, the inspectors and the Director of Michelin guides. Decisions regarding the attribution of stars are reached by consensus.

Valuable information is also found in the 45,000 letters and e-mail messages received from readers each year. While 85% of the correspondence support the selection, the remaining 15% comes from readers who don’t agree with the inclusion of a given hotel or restaurant or want to draw attention to an establishment omitted from the selection that they enjoyed very much and think might interest the guide.

My experience in 3 Michelin star restaurant La Pergola, in Rome

 

La Pergola terrace

I witnessed myself the level of quality of a 3 star rated restaurant. Some of the few restaurants who are awarded 3 Michelin stars in Italy is La Pergola, Rome, settled on the roof top of the Hilton Cavaliere hotel. Mr. Heinz Beck, one of the most famous chefs in the world, and author of several cookbooks, is chef of La Pergola since 1994. The restaurant has splendid views from the terrace and impressive wine cellar that is, with its 50,000 bottles, 3,000 labels worth every star. It is great when a 3 Michelin star restaurant is not only about food and service and when the establishment affords to its privileged guests great views and decoration as well. In many famous cities like London and New York, the views and decor are sometimes lacking due to very high rents for premium places and locations. Whatever deal Mr. Beck has with Hilton, there was room left in the budget for fine art like a rare Aubusson tapestry, Sèvres porcelain, 18th century bronze candelabra, precious imperial furniture and a wonderful collection of hand-blown glass by Emile Gallé. At the center of the room is an imposing 17th century Celadron vase adorned each day with a spectacular floral composition. La Pergola menu is diverse, innovative and exciting and the quality of food is outstanding. Tartare of scampi with caviar on a cucumber and papaya brunoise, served as an appetizer was just right. Main course, Black cod on chickpea purée with San Daniele ham crust was worth even more stars. Several in-between dishes and desserts were brought as compliments from the Chef, Who doesn’t like compliments from the Chef? Those are usually creative ones made from the fresh market ingredients that caught Chef’s attention on the market. It was not like in one of my favorites, Essex House, New York, where they send you home with a big loaf of breadcake for next morning, but it was close enough. It was almost like La Rive in Amsterdam, where you order 8 course menu, but end up eating 14 after adding Chef’s compliments. Chef of La Pergola and his team are definitely working hard on keeping a quality and reputation of this restaurant and also important, meeting the expectations of devoted restaurant goers.

How did Michelin guide started

It all started with a vision and for free.

From a small, 400-page red guide distributed free of charge to motorists and containing a wealth of useful information on such topics as tire changes and vehicle maintenance, the Michelin guide has developed over the years to become the benchmark in gourmet dining. In 1900, there were fewer the 3,000 automobiles on the road in France, meaning that travel was very often a real adventure.

Nonetheless, brothers Edouard and André Michelin were firmly convinced that the automobile had a future.To support its development, and at the same time the development of the Michelin group, they decided to provide motorists with a small guide intended to make traveling easier and enhance mobility and so enhance the sales of Michelin tires. This was to become the famous Michelin guide, which was first published in August 1900 with a print run of nearly 35,000 copies. In the preface, André Michelin wrote: ”This volume appears at the dawn of a new century and will last until its end.” The guide was distributed free of charge in garages and tire dealerships.

In 1920, the Michelin guide was no longer offered free of charge

As the story goes, when visiting a distributor in 1920, André Michelin was shocked to see the guides being used to prop up a garage workbench. That marked the end an era. From that day on, it was decided that the Guide would be sold since, according to André Michelin, ”people only respect what they pay for”. In 1920, the guide was sold for the first time, at an initial price of seven francs, and restaurants were included in the guide for the first time, with a special ranking system. Since the first guide in 1900, the pictograms contained within have been continuously developed to stay in tune with the times. Over the years, pictograms have been introduced to inform readers, for example, if a given establishment has cold and/or hot water, electricity, a telephone and TV in the rooms, if it accepts credit cards, or if it offers non-smoking rooms and tables, WiFi u connections or a spa. Michelin’s own ”international” language, the pictograms are constantly being updated in line with emerging needs.

Written by Gordana Popović / Photo: La Pergola, Micheline PR

 

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