The Michelin Controversy
Then Who Can We Trust?
New York Times restaurant critic, Bryan Miller is a prominent
authority in American gastronomic literature. Here is his
take on the surprising Michelin case...
The accusation this
week by a former Michelin Red Guide inspector that his ex-employer
is misleading the public about the manner and frequency of
its inspections—specifically, that their restaurant
critics don’t visit establishments as often as the company
says, and that some three star establishments are sacred cows
because of their high profile owners—has the food world
The charges are forwarded by one Pascal Remy, a disgruntled
ex-Michelin Guide employee who put in 16 years on the caviar
circuit. He decided to lift the cloche from the famously
secretive company because, it is alleged, he was upset by
the company’s refusal to let him publish a book based
on his gustatory journals. And when he disobeyed, he was reportedly
fired. Remy is said to be suing Michelin over his dismissal.
Remy contends that, contrary to popular perception, Michelin
has only five inspectors in the field fruitlessly trying to
assess thousands of restaurants; the company counters that
it has more, but not necessarily based in France, and that
they visit 4,000 establishments in 18-month intervals.
This brouhaha gets more complicated, but suffices to say that,
if Remy is telling the truth about the revered Red Guide it
will be the biggest event in the food world since August Escoffier
mused, “Maybe I should write a little cookbook.”
If it turns out that we can’t trust Michelin, who can
we trust? When it comes to international restaurant ratings,
it is really the only game in town. The Mobile Guide does
not have significant impact on the American dining scene;
nor do the half dozen or so industry based awards that seem
to clutter the vestibule of every establishment that invests
Then there are newspapers. Whenever I travel, I pick up every
local and regional newspaper I can find. When it comes to
restaurant “criticism,” 90 percent of those are
of questionable value. (On a recent trip north, I learned
to my delight that Thomaston, Maine, has nearly as many great
Italian restaurants as Manhattan.)
Very few newspapers in the smaller markets have the necessary
logistics to put together a well rounded — and fair — assessment.
What is more, many small papers are hamstrung by advertising
concerns. City magazines, in the few largest markets, can
be better. Yet, they are increasingly vested in reader surveys,
What about the vox populi method of restaurant reviewing?
Everyone’s a critic. There is nothing wrong with that,
it’s just that everybody does it, many at the expense
of real criticism. For restaurants, it is an endless cycle
of primaries and general elections.
So if the gastronomic Hummer of Michelin blows a flat, shall
we all be left standing along the road?