Dear Michelin Guide,
You are the most well-known and prestigious restaurant guide in the world. Often referred to as a gastronomic Bible. For many people, it’s the main reference point when comparing restaurants. A Michelin restaurant has become a generic term – a noun in itself. When you speak of a Michelin-restaurant, people get distinct images in their head. Thus, you could say, the Michelin name is bigger than the book and larger than the brand.
Your hundred-and-nineteen-year-old history is fantastic! A car tire manufacturer who wanted people to travel more by creating a rating system for restaurants and hotels. How cool is that? I’ll be the first to admit – I’m a long-time fan. I have a Michelin plaque on my kitchen counter. A rusty steel poster, probably from the mid 20th century, showing the Michelin man, Bibendum, rolling a tire. It reads: Michelin at the top and Tyre Services at the bottom. I bought it at a French vintage store down the street from a couple who collects items from France. I’ve even placed an order with them to find me an original French Michelin Guide from 1984 – my birth year. It’s prepaid, and, who knows, maybe it will arrive one day.
My relationship to Michelin, however, is that of love-hate, and here’s why …
The Michelin Guide Nordic Countries is Misleading
As a food writer, I’m as much to blame as the next guy for giving Michelin the attention and hype they need to continue to reign on top. Every year, I speculate about the new possible Michelin stars, and, most years, I’ve attended the launches of the new Nordic Countries guide with great excitement. Yet, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to talk about restaurants in the Nordics without pointing out that the Michelin rank (or lack thereof) is actually misleading.
– Søllerød Kro in Copenhagen is a one-star restaurant, but it’s actually a solid two-star, is a typical thing I have to say when giving recommendations.
– Restaurant À L’aise in Oslo should have a star, but they didn’t get one this year either.
It saddens me to see how out of touch the red book is with the Nordic region. Key restaurants are missing completely and some of the ratings make absolutely no sense. Atli-Mar Yngvason is undeniably one of the best chefs in Norway, but his restaurants (first Pjoltergeist, later Katla) have never been featured once in the Guide. Not even with the lowest rank – a Michelin plate – which the Michelin Guide seems to have forgotten that they handed out to some Oslo eateries over ten years ago and never checked up on again. In the entire country of Norway, with more than 5 million inhabitants, one single restaurant (Smalhans) has been found worthy of the Bib Gourmand rating. Supposedly signaling good quality, good value cooking. Maybe it’s time to realize that the prices in Norway are just a slight bit higher than the rest of Europe? Smalhans deserves a Bib Gourmand, but so do restaurants like Arakataka, and many others.
All over the region, there are obvious two-starred restaurants that have been stuck with one star for years, despite being miles ahead of the competition. Already in 2016, I pointed out that Kadeau in Copenhagen and Gastrologik in Stockholm should expect a two-star upgrade. Yet, it took another two and three years, respectively, for Michelin to upgrade them. Any experienced diner would see they were getting meals at a much higher level there than at other one-starred venues. On the other end of the spectrum, Dill in Reykjavik lost their star this year, thus leaving the country of Iceland starless at the moment, and I’m struggling to see why. My meal there in March last year was at what I consider a solid one-star level, but as always, Michelin gives no reason for their choices.
The Michelin Guide still claims they re-visit all restaurants in the guide at least once per 18 months to assess the level. We know this just isn’t true. In the early 2000s, a Michelin inspector left his job and later published a book about life on the lonely road as an anonymous food reviewer. In the book, he revealed that Michelin only employed a fraction of the inspectors they alleged to have and that it was virtually impossible for the inspectors to re-visit most places more than once per 3-4 years. I’ve spoken to multiple chefs from high-level eateries in the Nordic who research every guest that walks in the door. Chefs who would recognize a Michelin inspector from a mile’s distance. Some of them haven’t had an inspection in over two years.
Still Two Michelin Stars to Restaurant Noma After 11 Years
Back in 2008, restaurant Noma in Copenhagen was awarded two Michelin stars. Since then, the cradle of the New Nordic cuisine and the restaurant that has given birth to a new generation of chefs, not only in Copenhagen but all over the region, has not rested on their laurels. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it should be almost impossible to miss out on the development that has happened at Noma in the last 11 years. Today, it’s so much more than a restaurant. Noma is a research lab, a creative hub, and for many, a school of cooking and hospitality. In terms of influence in the culinary world, I would argue that they took over the baton after restaurant el Bulli when they closed in 2011.
Will René Redzepi get his third star? This was the big question everyone was asking before the award ceremony at Musikhuset in Aarhus earlier this month. Most people I spoke to felt it was long overdue – the restaurant had proven itself time after time. But had the ranking as the world’s best restaurant multiple times sparked a political standpoint by Michelin to withhold the same acknowledgment? I figured that, if anything, the relocation in 2018, with the new concept of three distinct Nordic seasons, would give the Michelin Guide the perfect excuse to, finally, admit that René Redzepi was worthy of three stars.
The Aarhus audience didn’t have to hold their breath for very long as the band-aid was ripped immediately. Noma was announced first of the new two-starred venues. René Redzepi was not present. Seated in the audience, however, were some clearly disappointed, and, perhaps, wrongly ashamed, Noma staffers. Even the chefs who received their second star afterward, and had to share the stage with Noma’s head chef Benjamin Ing and restaurant manager James Spreadbury, seemed uncomfortable. But the only true embarrassment this night was the Michelin Guide. This was their one chance, in my opinion, to award the third star without further awkwardness. After this, I doubt Redzepi will ever care to personally attend a Michelin event again. That should be bad news for an organization that is so dependent on the media coverage each year – or maybe it was exactly the controversy they wanted?
What’s Wrong With the Michelin Guide?
I’m not the first to point out flaws with Michelin – it’s an annual tradition all over the world.
– What’s wrong with the Michelin Guide? Everything, said the brilliant writer A.A. Gill back in 2012.
As usual, he phrased it better than most people. The New Yorker once met up with the international director of Michelin (which was Jean-Luc Naret back in 2009) and, for the first time ever, also got to meet one of the anonymous inspectors. From their conversation, it is revealed that when Michelin launched their first New York Guide in 2005, it was a European team that assessed the city’s food scene. Only later did the guide hire New Yorkers to be inspectors. The same is the case with the Nordic region at the moment. Talking to chefs, I’ve come to understand that it’s usually British inspectors who pay the Nordic countries a visit, sometimes French or German, and on a rare occasion, I’ve heard about a Finnish inspector. This is also evident from the fact that Michelin announces news about the Nordic countries from the @MichelinGuideUK Twitter account. The 2019 Michelin Guide Nordic Countries was the sixth edition of the book. Isn’t it time to take the region seriously soon?
“The 2019 Michelin Guide Nordic Countries was the sixth edition of the book. Isn’t it time to take the region seriously soon?”
Few chefs or industry people will dare to voice their opinions publically, and I don’t blame them. Michelin is still powerful, despite being outdated and slow. In a year from now, I’ll probably speculate on another edition of the Michelin Guide, and later watch the ceremony unfold. Sadly, it will be with a little less excitement this time.
Kaitlin has also shared a very personal story about her relationship to the Michelin Guide – check it out!
What do you think about the current Michelin Guide Nordic Countries? Feel free to leave your opinion in a comment below.