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Michelin Man Squeals


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The NY Times has an article today on this 'scandal'.

Derek Brown is quoted: "Mr. Brown did not specify how many full-time inspectors

there were in France. But he said that 21 of 70 inspectors who work for Michelin's seven European guides helped produce the 2004 guide for France, which will appear on bookshelves on Friday."

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The most damning thing is how few Michelin inspector visits are made. If letter writing is as important how can one downgrade Zagat which is a summary of many customer opinions. I'm not a fan of either guide. I find egullet inputs the most valuable especially after I discern the tastes of the contributer. I hope that egullet stays free of planted comments.

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I found the New York Times article very interesting, and I think all this attention to what Michelin does and doesn't do is salutary, but the comparison to Zagat is excessive. At least in France, Michelin is certainly much more reliable than Zagat.

What did you all think of this, at the end of the NYT article:

Jean-Claude Ribaut, the food critic of Le Monde for 15 years, said the scandal is certain to hurt more than a tiremaker. "Everybody will have a laugh, from Tokyo to New York," he said. "The French will once more be the laughingstock. People must wonder, why do the French always destroy their icons?"

Odd to me. The French tradition of free speech and irreverence for puffed-up authority is a reason for them to be admired throughout the world. And where are the more widely respected restaurant guides that justify making the French a "laughingstock"?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Michelin is certainly much more reliable than Zagat.

I don't really know Zagat, but

1) Considering the share of information Michelin is more of a hotel guide. All merits in restaurant rating come from reliabilty, not from intriguing articles.

2) On one star level, Michelin does quite a fair job, I think. And not only in France. Their mistakes are rather by omission. With its pictograms and its somewhat grotesquely compressed descriptions, there is room for phantasy and surprise.

3) Wrt. three star - this is more a fashion and art business anyway. Those who expect reliable guides for contemporary work ... Its' all about too much meaning, somehow.

Edited by Boris_A (log)

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Michelin's mistakes may be mostly by ommission, but that can be a serous flaw. I suppose it means that the reader is less likely to be led astray, but it also means it's not a great guide to finding the best if those ommission are many. That may well be what's wrong with the guide to Spain. The restaurants they tout may all be fine, but it some areas, you may not find the best restaurant as it's not been rewarded with the marks it's earned. Although the expose was about the guide in France, the faults it mentions would seem to be greater in countries outside France where the concetration of inspectors is lower. One of the shocking aspects of all this is the very small number of inspectors in France. That a place in the guide and even a star rating may be held, or held off, for a year or more based on a single inspection is rather a shock to most of us, yet Derek Brown doesn't seem to refute this.

Michelin started out as a hotel guide, and a restaurant guide, but not one offering stars to the restaurants. Over the years, it has remained a hotel guide, but it's importance as a restaurant guide has increased significantly. Not all of it's users need a hotel room. Some live at home and eat out. On the other hand, those who use it for a guide to the night's hotel, may also use it to find a place in which to eat both lunch and dinner. There are few visitors to France who need a room and not at least one place to eat each day.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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If anyone cares to know what Bryan Miller thinks about the Michelin controversy, they can read Then Who Can You Trust? on the Gayot web site. Miller opines "Then there are newspapers. Whenever I travel, I pick up every local and regional newspaper I can find. When it comes to restaurant “criticism,” 90 percent of those are of questionable value." Unfortunately he doesn't go on to name anyone he trusts.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Try this interesting link to the IHT article today on this subject:

http://www.iht.com/articles/131317.html

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

blog

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I was fortunate enough to have lunch five days ago near Avignon with an extremely experienced, well-traveled chef who was chef de cuisine during the 1970s at one of the handful of restaurants considered as “the greatest in the world”. One of his lamentations about French cuisine now is how the press influences so many chefs to cook in certain ways. As a corollary to what my chef friend said, I have held for a long time the notion that the press acts primarily as a public relations tool (both paid and unpaid) to alter and enhance perceptions, usually in an overall, nationalistic way. In America this can be succinctly illustrated by asking yourself this question: is cuisine and chefdom as good in an empirical sense as the food media make it out to be.

In France, the lack of discrimination and negative criticism in the culinary press, especially in guidebooks, is nearly universal. What I think the primary reason that people trusted and held in high regard the Guide Michelin for France was that it avoided this problem with its simple way of rating and lack of critical prose. That this ex-inspector chose to spill the beans in an attempt to cast dispersion is shaking up long-held beliefs in the integrity of Michelin. I wonder, however, if there is not a subtle shift in Michelin taking place between the phenomenon I describe in my first paragraph and the reputation the guide has for striving for objectivity. Given the widely-disseminated notion that French cuisine is taking a back seat to the new Spanish cuisine, it certainly raises the concept that this is having an influence, subtle as it may be, on how Michelin is allotting its three-star ratings. Just to add a bit of fuel to the fire, I found it odd (as did Jellybean) that the Michelin gave back third stars to two restaurants that has lost them several years ago: L’Esperance and La Cote St. Jacques.

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Robert points to exactly that growing commercialization of upper echelon "excellence" which makes me seek out those bistros that are so far down the scale that they do not aspire to such heights. Some are merely mediocre, but others are in the hands of inner-directed chefs.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Let me add that I've also found Michelin eager to annoint restaurants having more creative chefs, with a star. Creativity seems to get more attention that just quality cooking.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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As a corollary to what my chef friend said, I have held for a long time the notion that the press acts primarily as a public relations tool (both paid and unpaid) to alter and enhance perceptions, usually in an overall, nationalistic way...

Just to add a bit of fuel to the fire, I found it odd (as did Jellybean) that the Michelin gave back third stars to two restaurants that has lost them several years ago: L’Esperance and La Cote St. Jacques.

I would agree with your first sentence 100% if you left out the word "nationalistic" - because I don't perceive "nationalism" in most of the food writing I read - just a lot of puffery. I mean - goodness gracious - Gourmet Magazine (or maybe it was Food & Wine) even managed to make the town where I live - Jacksonville FL - sound like a "food" destination. Which I can assure you is not the case (a golf destination yes - a food destination no).

I can't tell you how many times my husband and I have been disappointed in recent years eating at restaurants in various places that were supposed to be "world class" - and - or at a minimum - excellent. I can count the times we were thrilled on less than one hand. And there are maybe 3 hands full of major disappointments. It gets a little depressing after a while.

And - just to put my prejudices up front - when I think of a world class restaurant - I don't think of a place that serves me 25-35 mini-courses where half don't work. I think of a restaurant where I have the basic courses (appetizer, main, dessert, maybe also salad and/or cheese depending) - plus a few throw-aways - where *everything* works.

At the last really excellent meal we had (not in Jacksonville) - it was a Wednesday - the place wasn't crowded - we were obviously having a good time - and the chef came out to us and asked us to try a bit of something he was working on. It wasn't a "course" - he was just asking for a critique - and we gave it to him (it was ready for "prime time"!). This chef happened to be French (although the restaurant was in the US) - and he subscribed to old fashioned notions of great restaurants. That great restaurants serve consistently great food to their customers - they don't experiment with something for the 2nd or 3rd time in the 14th course. I don't care whether the cuisine is old-fashioned - new-fangled - or something in-between (and your definitions may of course vary in terms of what's what here). It all has to *work*.

Call me old-fashioned. But even though I'm not a great chef at home - I don't experiment with *my* guests. I serve them food I know will be at least very good. I learn and experiment on my own time.

This doesn't even start to address service issues. Like the supposedly excellent expensive restaurant that is trying to turn its tables 3-4 times a night - which means your main course will probably arrive before you've eaten the last of your appetizer. I don't mind this in a local lunch joint where I'm spending $7.99. I very much mind it if the bill for dinner is expected to be over $200.

Anyway - enough venting. What did you find odd about L'Esperance? I was only there once. Had made reservations when it had 2 stars - ate there after it received the 3rd (the first time around). I thought it was a lower end 2 star then - and frankly never understood the 3rd star. On the other hand - the prices were in line for what I ate (i.e., it wasn't priced like a 3 star either). So I wasn't disappointed. Robyn

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Robert points to exactly that growing commercialization of upper echelon "excellence" which makes me seek out those bistros that are so far down the scale that they do not aspire to such heights. Some are merely mediocre, but others are in the hands of inner-directed chefs.

You're in Europe and we in the US don't have Michelin. For what it's worth - when in Europe - I always found the 1 or 2 knife and fork Michelin ratings to be a sound way to find solid enjoyable meals. Robyn

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For what it's worth - when in Europe - I always found the 1 or 2 knife and fork Michelin ratings to be a sound way to find solid enjoyable meals.  Robyn

So have I. I was really talking about the starry firmament, not the prosaic fork-and-spoon [sic] establishments. And the red bibs have been useful; I look forward to the down-market regional guides that are promised.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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  • 1 month later...

Michelin has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements to defend the integrity of its Guide Rouge against a book published last week by a former inspector who insists that the system for rating restaurants is somewhat less than rigorous.

'In the advertisements, the Michelin man – known in France as Bibendum – is seen holding up a letter he has written to the public. “What has been said and written over the last weeks leaves me pensive about the excessive tone that has been adopted, and the image of France created by certain gastronomic chroniclers,” it reads.'

http://www.sundayherald.com/41524

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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My first reaction is that by increasing attention on the story, Michelin is more likely to hurt than help themselves. But I could be wrong...

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 2 years later...

Does anybody know if an English language translation of this book has appeared anywhere?

L'inspecteur se met a table

by Pascal Remy

THANKS !!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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  • 3 years later...
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