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picaman

Michelin, Schadenfreude and Remy

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Feud Over Michelin Guide Grips French Food Sector

"A French restaurant critic has lifted the lid on the secretive inner workings of the Michelin guide, alleging that a third of the top-rated venues in France's foremost gastronomic handbook are not up to scratch.

Pascal Remy, sacked in December after 16 years as an inspector at the illustrious guide, smashed an industry taboo by giving a series of interviews to French media on Thursday."

"Establishments are not visited every year," Remy told the weekly Le Figaro Magazine in an interview due to be published on Saturday. "More than a third of three-star restaurants are not of the standard expected."

Michelin is denying much of this, of course. Disgruntled ex-employee? Does anyone have more info about this?

:smile:

Jamie

EDIT: minor inaccuracy


Edited by picaman (log)

See! Antony, that revels long o' nights,

Is notwithstanding up.

Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene ii

biowebsite

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I've tried to post the URL of the NYT article in the parallel thread running in Food Media and News, but it doesn't seem to be generally accessible because I'm a Times News Tracker subscriber.

Let's continue this discussion in Food Media and News as this is topic with broad interest in terms of News and Media, not to mention food guides in general. To that end, I'm locking this thread and merging all other responses with the thread in that forum. Here's the link to the Food Media & News forum thread - Michelin Man Squeals


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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Not knowing the etiquette (in the American sense of the word) of eGullet, I don’t know if book reviews are encouraged. But here goes.

If you have a smattering of French, an ounce of schadenfreude and some curiosity about how the Michelin guides work; pick up a copy of Pascal Remy’s “L’inspecteur se met à table,” Éditions des Équateurs, 2004, published sometime last week. Remy, whose “révélations” were widely covered by the French press and even more widely attacked by the Michelin folks (think O'Neill, Clarke and Woodward by the Bush White House), writes in a drôle, accessible style that makes you believe what he recounts, sometimes of happenings 16 years ago. Maybe he’s just a sorehead, as the Micheliniens maintain, but I suspect not. A good investment of 15E.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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This sounds like my favorite kind of "read" ... thank you for bringing it up here on eGullet!! Checking with Amazon right now for a copy ....


Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Hi John,

Sounds like a juicy read so I hope an English version comes out soon. It seems to me that Bibendum is in hot water because of this expose.

Alex

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there was a blurb about it today in the NY Times food section that it came out this week in Paris, a small paperback for about $20.

Michelin denies his accusations.


Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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Not knowing the etiquette (in the American sense of the word) of eGullet, I don’t know if book reviews are encouraged.

Definitely, if the book is about food, as this one is.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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Three additions to my prior note; not really surprising but interesting:

1. Purchasers of the Guide shouldn't expect new restaurants to be listed when they buy this year's edition (now with only 5 inspectors vs 11 in 1988 for all of France) they cover a place only every 3 years instead of 2 as in 1988 (except for the top places).

2. "Les meilleures adresses de l'inspecteur sont toujours secretés,......"

3. In the next to last chapter, along with all his favorites, most multiply-starred, is L'Ardoise, recently mentioned in another thread, and open on Sundays.

Happy reading!


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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A thread is already running on this subject on the Food Media and News board here.

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The only problem there is that nobody read the book, they're seeming to comment on the news articles.

Is there a difference between what's being reported in the news items and what's said in the book? This also raises the question about the accuracy of the book. One shouldn't believe all one reads, although I'm inclined to suspect the book has many truths. While cigalchanta posts that Michelin denies the accusations, I seem to have read accounts of them heming and hawing. Questions about exactly how often are restaurants visited are responded to not by numbers, but by statements of "as often as necessary." I haven't yet read a claim that every restaurant, or even every starred restaurant is visited at least once a year and I have lived with the assumption that the inspectors most assuredly made several visits a year. Apparently this was a false assumption. An interesting book might be a study of how the myth became as large as it did.


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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Is there a French reader who wants to tackle the book and give us a full-length review? I also picked up a copy of "Food Business" (also in French), but I am not sure that I have the time to read it especially since I don't read French as fast as English. Also, if you put any creedance in the rumor that one of our members told me (and step forward if you want) that Bernard Loiseau took his life "for other reasons", then much of what the authors carry on about is a red herring

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The one thing we know about Loiseau and Michelin is that he took his life after it was announced that he retained three stars. He may have been under stress because of rumors about his rating, but Michelin appears not to be the ultimate reason for his action. I am not however the one who had any more information on this than was very public.


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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I'm actually off today and am heading out the door right now to pick up a copy... I'll post a review as soon as possible!

I haven't checked out the eGullet archive re. Loiseau so I'm not sure what has been mentioned in the past, but at the time of his passing, his associates and colleagues didn't stop talking about his previous battles with Depression . It goes without saying that living with Depression ain't easy, and neither is being a 3-star chef. The two combined make for a rough road indeed.

Okay...off to the bookstore!

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To answer some of the questions. I am a psychiatrist, read French and was in France working with French psychiatrists when Loiseau committed suicide successfully. I am not revealing any therapeutic confidences when I say that it was widely known that he was and had been depressed, so "other factors" were at work. As paradoxical as it may seem that someone commits suicide after "good news," it is not rare; indeed a colleague of mine who was depressed during a long treatment for a nasty cancer committed suicide after learning he was "clean" radiologically.

To answer Bux, I think you've got it right. Michelin stirs up and muddies the water but never directly contradicts Remy's numbers. His descriptions (eg of his hiring, his first three trips, up to the next to last chapter's "favorites") sound very convincing and accurate, so much so that I suspect he kept very good notes. Remy says clearly there are fewer inspectors for more restaurants AND hotels and that the big starred places get multiple visits (it sounds like a perk of the Michelin hierarchy) per annum.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Remy says clearly there are fewer inspectors for more restaurants AND hotels and that the big starred places get multiple visits (it sounds like a perk of the Michelin hierarchy) per annum.

Thanks for the that bit of information. I thought I'd read a report that said some of the top places don't necessarily get revisited every year. That rather shocked me and some comments I've made since were based on that misinformation. While I don't always agree with the starred ratings, I've always liked to believe they were made on good information. At the unstarred level, I've always believed the listings are extremely useful, but hardly conclusive and that a local might know better places or better values. If the two and three star places get multiple visits each year, they my faith is somewhat restored. I shall have to depend on other people's readings until a translation is published.

I would assume there'd be a good market for an English language edition. Surely, I'm not the only English language travel who's imagined himself living a fictitious life of a Michein inspector. Is there a position more coveted by gastronomes?


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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Checking with Amazon right now for a copy ....

Neither Amazon US or UK has it.

Do we know if it's been published in English? I was led to believe from this article in the Sunday Herald that it was, but that may just have been wishful thinking on my part; does anybody know for sure?

Sunday Herald story about Michelin book

If anybody's looking to order a copy in French quickly and easily, and fairly cheaply, it can be ordered from the wonderful French book site alapage.fr for 14.25 Euros. (Their shipping is fast and reasonable too, and even if you don't choose the express shipping the books always come within the week. I was turned on to this place some years ago when looking for a French restaurant guidebook that just couldn't be had, and in fact, this place had it, charged me in dollars, and got it to me within the week - I order from them all the time.)

If anybody knows of an English version, please post!


Edited by markk (log)

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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The book of Pascal Rémy has been published now, but I was very much surprised that the book of Olivier Morteau, Food business. Enquête dans les coulisses de la gastronomie française, has not mentioned here at all.

This book is written by three journalists very much involved in the culinary field under the name "Olivier Morteau" and deals with all the different guides, the weaknesses and the top cuisine-business in France. It has caused scandals in France and I found the book, as far as I have been able to read it very good and very critical about the whole food business and the guides like Michelin and GaultMillau.

Has no one else read the book?

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Thanks PaulBrussel

I got the Olivier Morteau book from Amazon.fr for 10E and the first chapter is entirely about Loiseau and states very clearly that he battled depression and perhaps bipolar (manic-depression) disease for "30 years." The authors deplore the use of Loiseau's suicide as a reason to flay guidebooks, reviewers etc, esp Francois Simon and name the named chefs who were guilty of "piling on." Mrs L. gets a very sympathetic treatment. FYI I found the book easy reading without the sometimes too-clever words used by the aforementioned F Simon, altho Morteau says time & again he, Simon, is the one "independant" reviewer in France - by that I take it to mean, not on the take. (I assume somewhere on eGullet Shlumberger's (sp) story of NYTimes reviewers not being lily-white, exists.)

To answer Markk, Remy's book is to be published in German, Italian and Japanese I believe but no plans yet for English (this is from the horse's mouth, a friend of mine stayed with the publisher two nights ago). Indeed, the publisher wanted my opinion if it would sell in the US and I said yes - if anyone out there knows of an interested publisher I'd be glad to pass the info on (he, the French publisher just started his small house, and apparently is not fully connected with international rights folks yet.)


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Loiseau's wife was interviewed on Tv, and she said he did have a history of depression.


Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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Indeed, the publisher wanted my opinion if it would sell in the US and I said yes - if anyone out there knows of an interested publisher I'd be glad to pass the info on (he, the French publisher just started his small house, and apparently is not fully connected with international rights folks yet.)

Do you know Andy Smith, editor of the U of I Food Series which he launched with a reprint of John and Karen Hess's The Taste of America? He's a good friend, a fine scholar, an imaginative editor and has a constant twinkle in his eye, both literal and metaphorical. Email me if you'd like more info.

Are you by any chance the John Talbott who reviewed a couple of books on the French intellectual elite for NYRB in the 70s? If so, I hope you can be persuaded to review in these pages at much greater length, starting with the book presently under discussion. (Or even if not.)


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I'm not sure I'm guilty of writing that article but I will post my notes on Olivier Morteau's book; I should be finished by Saturday.

And yes, I'd love more information on Andy Smith to pass on.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Remy's book is to be published in German, Italian and Japanese I believe but no plans yet for English (this is from the horse's mouth, a friend of mine stayed with the publisher two nights ago).

A pity that no English translation will be published.

Last weekend I read the Remy book, by the way only dealing with the French Michelin guide, not the others. I found it not very scandalous at all, and well written. Quite amusing too. Convincing too, in my view.

His main messages, I think, are:

1. Not enough staff at Michelin to make a right judgement every year.

2. Too many staff not being aware of what is going on elsewhere, neither having the knowledge to judge well e.g. Asian or South-American cooking.

3. All judgements of inspectors can't otherwise but personal.

4. Too many connections between the top chefs and the top of Michelin, helping one another to market their products (restaurants or guides).

5. Strong doubts about several chefs keeping their three stars, as is the case for Bocuse.

6. Michelin is changing the last few years, but nevertheless the French love secrets, and Michelin wants to keep their secrets as well...

7. GaultMillau seems more searching for new talents, although the competition between both guides also seems to get tougher. Therefore perhaps young talents get their (first) stars / high points more easy then in the old days, in order to get more marketing before the guides are published.

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A pity that no English translation will be published.

An epitaph/editorial in homage to Roger Straus Jr. appeared in the NY Times on Sunday, May 30, 2004. The writer, Verlyn Klinkenborg, wrote of him as if he was the last of "the great editors and publishers who made publishing matter" and went on to say "He understood the difference between asking, 'Is it worth buying' and 'Can it be sold?'"

Most publishing houses today are parts of large conglomerates and the view towards what is publishable is not much different than towards what can be sold on TV. It's not necessarily that books are less literate or appeal to the more illiterate, but that books which don't have mass appeal have less chance of finding a publisher today. Those books that would be lost on the list of titles coming from a major publisher, have a hard time finding a publisher or distributor who will do them justice.

I would think there's a market in the U.K. where a local Guide Michelin is published. I'm less sure how marketable the book would be in the U.S. My guess is that half the copies would be sold in New York. The news that Michelin is likely to publish a guide to New York within the next two years might spur sales, but that's probably not a tie in Michelin wants to promote.

Paul, thanks for your summary. Some of Remy's points are slam dunks and most of that doesn't seem to require inside information. Point #1 is however, a bit damning.


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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Thanks Paul.

At your suggestion I read and just posted notes (Book Notes on Food Guides Rounds 2 & 3) on the Olivier Morteau book as well. In some places it's just as amusing as Remy.

Also John Whiting has provided me with an idea re: an American publisher for Remy which I'll pass on to my friends. It may yet happen.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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