It came to my attention a mere few weeks ago, due to some banter among foodies on twitter, that Michelin had ceased its star ratings in LA back in 2009 and has no plans of returning. In an interview with Michelin Guide Director Jean-Luc Naret he stated the sales of the Michelin Guidebook (and the subsequent cessation of the rating system in LA) had to do with diners feeling more inclined to choose restaurants based on where the Stars eat and less so on restaurants that have been awarded Michelin Stars. Its seems rather counter-intuitive to decline offering a guidebook for eaters in a particular city with a high volume of diverse restaurants simply because our diners dont always have the need to eat at fine dining restaurants that have been awarded for their service, their decor and their traditional (french) cuisine.
To regurgitate so many other sources on the web today, the Michelin tire company sought out to devise a rating system for travelers (truckers mostly) when on the road, so that some level of guidance was provided to eaters and hotel stayers alike. This transformed into a star rating system that has paramount importance to chefs and restaurateurs as this has become the gold standard of hosting. Snippets of guidelines have been revealed over the years as well as the true definitions to the star ratings. As it would seem, and as it has been echoed by past testers/voters, the rating system is for diners, and not for chefs to rate their own talents.
The Michelin Guide no doubt has obtained credibility in France, and in Europe as a whole, while its importance still yields little reaction in countries under its ‘international’ regime including Tokyo which holds the highest number of stars than any other city around the world. In 2009, ironically the last year we saw the Michelin Guidebook in LA, Tokyo had been awarded a total of 227 stars. Impressive to say the least but with zero affect on chefs such as Chef Hidecki Ishikawa who stated in ‘Three Stars’:
For a head chef in France this bestows great authority. Its not so important to us if someone gives us good reviews… without stars we would work the same way.
So how is it that one guidebook is aiming to internationalize their rating system, and inadvertently claim to consider cultural diversity, while mocking more modern and nontraditional food concepts in cities such as LA? How can restaurants serving Japanese noodles in a noodle house obtain a three star rating while a taco truck in LA struggles to gain recognition? It doesnt seem at all fair that a classic restaurant in LA would be overlooked by the Michelin raters simply because a portion of the diners may be there to partake in some celebrity sightings. These are just some examples of how the Michelin rating system needs to go back to the drawing board and make up their mind about what it is they are guiding.
In 2009 we saw the last of the Michelin Guidebook for LA. This, of course due to a lot of other factors, was in part because the Michelin team felt the lackluster sales of the guidebook in LA was due to diners caring much more about where to run into celebrities and not so much where to find the ‘perfect’ dining experience. Needless to say, while we do often find ourselves awestruck at the rich and famous sitting next to us, we have more foodies and more options than most cities around the world. And it would be correct to say that the foodies here really do outnumber the people who are eating at locations just to run into someone famous. In fact I think a number of us (or maybe just myself) would be more awestruck at meeting Bryan and Michael Voltaggio than I would at meeting the Vanderpumps.
But one might argue that with the growing number of suicides linked to fear of losing stars, this really has become less useful for the diner and much more important to the crew making the magic. They, without any other rating system to go by that is as renowned as the Michelin system, are in part defined by the number of stars they have. And, the chef, while not always the owner of the restaurant, is regarded as the person who got the restaurant to (or maintained) their star status.
There is an ongoing debate in the city of LA as to whether we want the Michelin Guidebook to come back. And while I too sit on the fence as to its overall benefits we live in a country that feeds off high pace and competition. The growing number of cooking competition shows that are aired on the Food Network is just a small example of the intensity that drives this industry and what it means to prove yourself against others.
As a wife (now X) of a celebrity chef I can attest to the incredible amount of pressure that chefs are willing (knowingly) to put on themselves to prove to the world that they are the next Top Chef. So to say that our leaders in the food industry are nay-sayers of the Michelin Guidebook and the honor that comes with a star rating is not of great importance is downplaying the system in a large way. I truly do believe that while we as diners dont necessarily have the power to bring back the Michelin Guidebook to LA, we as bloggers are certainly a driving force. And dare I say, I would love to be the first to stand up and say I am willing to do what I can to bring our chefs the honor of being judged by Michelin in 2017.
As per 2009 these are the LA restaurants with Stars:
The Dining Room at the Langham
Gordon Ramsay at the London
Trattoria Tre Venezie
Lu Din Gee Cafe
Melrose Bar & Grill