!TW: this post contains information about suicide
Why are people ready to pay so much for a Michelin experience? Is it the name of a celebrated chef? Is it the beautiful, mouth watering food? Is it the decor, the aesthetic? What does the Michelin guide even mean to you? An homage to the “best restaurants in the world”? What if I were to expose to you the dark side of Michelin beyond the glitz and the glamour. From suicide to corruption, this is the dark side of the Michelin guide.
Having worked in restaurants and, in my education, having had the opportunity to do work with dining service and kitchen for two weeks in the school’s restaurant (which at the time was in the Michelin guide), I can tell you that the pressure was very much real. From service rules such as serving from the right, having a 10 degree angle of the bread plate, the cutlery having to be placed 10 cm away from the edge of the table…there are many rules that one must follow throughout the service. These are all standards that one has to follow to provide a “high end”, luxury service. There were times where I would shoot 10 espressos before my shift just to be awake….now, imagine if this was your life, how would you feel? What would this type of pressure make you do, how would you react? Some break down to pieces, having their souls shattered and some persevere.
What makes a Michelin star? Theoretically, as per the guide, it is not about the decor but it is about the cooking itself. Well, I want you to think about the Michelin restaurants that you have been to or the commonly conceived ideas you have about Michelin starred restaurants. Usually, the front of the house—the dining area, is decorated exquisitely and is complimented by the usually small portions of food…you see the gap there? Additionally, according to the guide, a one star restaurant is “worth a stop”, two “excellent cooking” and three “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. Focus on the word choice, do you see how subjective it is? It all depends on what a Michelin inspector deems to be “excellent” or “exceptional”.
Now, imagine, you get a three star Michelin, you are one of the top restaurants in the world. What next? You have to keep the stars as you have created an expectation and personal standard. As my professor once said, one of the signs of luxury is consistency. Wouldn’t you feel such pressure? Having to continuously innovate and expect continuous excellence from everyone from your service staff to your kitchen staff to your sommelier. Everything needs to be perfect. Your life’s balance switches, most chefs become unhappy and they turn themselves to a dark path. They no longer have the joy of cooking but rather, they become machines, robots, perfectly programmed to create an “exceptional” experience.
In 2016, a chef in Switzerland committed suicide a day before the Michelin guide came out. He was too scared that he would not maintain his third star. The next day, it was revealed that he had maintained it, but this accomplishment was grievously overshadowed by his untimely death.
Another chef in France, in 2003, committed suicide because he lost a star. These chefs base their value, their life, and their self-respect on an imaginary star that a critic awards them on subjective opinion.
Furthermore, the guide is known to be heavily corrupted to the point of them getting sued for bribery. Furthermore, one has to pray that the Michelin will pass by your city, town or neighbourhood on a yearly basis to estimate your self-worth. All of this is truly tragic. The inspectors themselves do not have clear guides to judge their experience—leaving much to speculation, prejudice and subjectivity.
Overall, I hope that this shed a light on the dark practice of the guide and what the guide entails. The Michelin guide, which some top chefs follow like a religion, is a system that bases its value on hypothetical, imaginary stars. The next time you step into or see a Michelin rated restaurant, keep in mind the severity and importance of these fictitious ratings to the top worldly chefs busy in the kitchen.
#LBSSphiloxenia, by @irirkay, BBA in International Hospitality Management student at Glion Institute of Higher Education