Is the Michelin Guide harmful?

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The Michelin Guide was established in 1900 when two brothers, André and Edouard Michelin, decided their new tire business needed a commercial boost. With cars still scarce on the roads, they thought it would be a brilliant idea to publish a travel guide for motorists, with the aim of convincing people to travel and use their tires to increase demand. Since then, the Guide has become the gold standard for restaurants, which can be awarded one star (“worth a stop”), two stars (“worth a detour”) or three stars (“worth a special trip”). But there has long been a controversy over who exactly deserves these stars and why. The organization is notably accused of making French catering the benchmark in terms of haute cuisine. But is it too easy to imagine that a French company would grant preferential treatment to the French? Let’s look at the numbers.

New York City, one of the world’s most culturally diverse culinary capitals, is currently home to 64 Michelin-starred establishments, with 46 one-star restaurants, 13 two-star restaurants and 5 three-star restaurants.

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While a large portion of the Michelin-starred restaurants fall into the vague “New Americans” category (as one would expect, the stars being indicative of innovative cuisine in the United States), the other styles of cooking awarded have tendency to bias French and Japanese. Italian, Korean and Mexican dishes also did very well. Of the 46 one-star restaurants, 7 are French and 13 Japanese. Of the 64 restaurants, 15 are Japanese and 14 French. But if you factor in the number of stars, you will notice that although more Japanese restaurants have stars in all categories, the more stars a restaurant has, the more likely it is to be French. 15% of one-star restaurants are French, while the percentage is 38% for two stars and 40% for three.

But what about global rankings? They seem to follow a similar trend. France has a huge 30 restaurants with 3 Michelin stars, the largest in the world. Japan comes in second with 22 (including 4 French) and the United States in third with 13.

Looking at the guide, another interesting thing emerges: although countries like Japan and the United States have “Japanese” and “American” classifications, in France there is no culinary breakdown based on country. original. Instead, the categories are either: Creative, Modern cuisine, Classic cuisine, Seafood or Regional cuisine, with a single restaurant (Le Louis XV in Paris) classified in the “Mediterranean cuisine” category. France has 637 Michelin-starred restaurants in total, while Japan has only 415, Italy 366, Germany 308, Spain 217 and the United States only 195.

European trends might make sense with a guide originally built around car travel from France, but Japan is an intriguing outlier. Part of this seemingly odd group can be traced to the culinary history shared between France and Japan. Much of the framework for what we consider to be haute cuisine just the new kitchen from France in the 1960s, where chefs like Paul Bocuse and Jean and Pierre Troisgros moved from the heavy style of the traditional French royal banquet to a lighter approach. This is where the concept of small plates comes in in Western cuisine, where clever decoration and seasonal ingredients become the defining aspects of gastronomy. But it’s commonly suggested that these chefs didn’t come up with these things overnight – some of their inspiration came from the Japanese.

French chefs who visited Japan in the 1960s were delighted with the traditional Japanese meal called kaiseki, which has links with the Zen Buddhist tea ceremony. From simple dishes to complex plates that serve to showcase the ingredients (rather than drowning them in a sauce, in the French tradition) are essential to kaiseki, and when these ideas were co-opted by the French, part of the culture Japanese culinary has become the basis of our understanding of what a fine meal should look like. So when we look at the bias in favor of French and Japanese cuisine in Michelin rankings, we can almost see it as a combined bias, as the appreciation of Japanese cuisine is filtered through the prism of its preferred borrower. .

Food never exists in a vacuum. He is constantly under the influence of everything that is happening. Even the idea of ​​what designates food to be “French” or not is the subject of a long debate… but that is a topic for another article. At the very least, though, it seems obvious that if you’re the country that sets the rules in fine dining, you’re probably going to reap some of the rewards.



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