Michelin’s Biggest Fail

Released today, the 2013 Michelin Guide for New York City has the heady, varnished-paper smell of a new Reader’s Digest. Beyond that, there’s little to love. Eater filed its annual explication of the newly starred and the shunned (Kajitsu—demoted; Veritas, Laut, and Marc Forgione—screwed). Chowhounds are dissecting the ratings with X-Acto blades. And in a hilariously testy piece for Vanity Fair, A. A. Gill argues that the guide killed the restaurant (“Michelin spawned restaurants that ... grew out of cooks’ abused vanity, insecurity, and fawning hunger for compliments”). Poor Michelin.

More like poor chefs. For a document everybody in the business pretty much sneers at, the Michelin Guide is a still an important gauge of a chef’s worth (maybe self-worth). Get a star, and a chef’s likely to post some humble tweet about the honor of it all; get dissed, and a chef will call Michelin biased, blind, or stupid, sometimes publicly.

For me, Michelin’s biggest crime isn’t the omissions or its fetish for grandeur—it’s the writing. I’m pretty sure the reviews were all originally written in French, then translated into English with the punctiliousness of a grad student. For instance, the kitchen at one-star NoMad “astonishes with its lot of elegant à la carte creations. It’s all deliciously tempting; so at the risk of becoming mired by indecision, just order.” Mission Chinese Food has “small tables piled high with such uniquely aggressive cooking that may yield delicious Shanghainese rice cakes tossed with thrice-cooked bacon.”

For any chef to hang his reputation on a rating from writers capable of that—to rephrase some anonymous Michelin writer, that astonishes.

Image from Michelin / Facebook

John Birdsall is senior editor at CHOW. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.