Michelin's top dogs answer the key questions on exactly how the guide makes its annual star decisions
This year's Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland handed out new star ratings to 23 restaurants. After the ceremony on 27 March the guide's anonymous chief inspector joined international director Gwendal Poullennec to speak to journalists about the 2023 selection. Here's what was discussed.
Michelin won't confirm how many inspectors it has
It's been a topic of discussion among chefs whether food guides have been able to visit enough restaurants to properly update their selections since the pandemic. Travel restrictions have obviously made things more difficult, but there are also questions around the number of inspectors available to cover each geographic region.
Poullennec said Michelin has one team and that no inspector goes to the same restaurant twice to ensure each star awarded is a "team decision".
"It's very important that [the inspectors] remain anonymous and we never say how many there happen to be," the guide's chief inspector added. "We want to experience the restaurants just like members of the public. We don't want the restaurateurs to know exactly who's out there and what they are doing."
He added that new monthly additions to the Michelin website were evidence its listings were "absolutely" up to date.
The issue of diversity hasn't gone away
When chefs from the one- and two-star winners gathered on stage for photographs this year, there was a notable lack of female faces. The 23 new starred restaurants are overwhelmingly run by white male chefs, with Japanese chef Takuya Watanabe of London's Taku (one-star) and Turkish-born Ahmet Dede, who won two stars for Dede in Baltmore, Ireland, among the exceptions.
That's not to say there were no women recognised. Chantelle Nicholson's Apricity in London was awarded a green star; Tara Ozols from SoLa in London, received the Sommelier Award, while Sarah Hayward, head chef at the Coach in Marlow, was given the Young Chef Award.
Other restaurants, such as Heft in Cumbria, are run by husband-and-wife teams and, despite the ceremony set-up, stars are given in recognition of an entire restaurant team, rather than just the chef.
When asked about the lack of female-led restaurants recognised, Michelin's chief inspector said there were more "ladies" working in top kitchens: "As we travel round and see these open kitchens and chefs that are bringing dishes up to the table, there are many more ladies involved in that process than ever there were," he said.
"To be honest with you, as far as the inspectors are concerned, it's not so much about the gender of the person who's bringing the dish to the table or who we see in the kitchen, it's about the quality of the cooking."
Poullennec added: "We have no quota, what is important is the focus on the quality of the experience."
There's no set formula to winning a star
Each year hospitality industry gossip predicts with supposed certainty which restaurants will win or lose stars, and each year it's proven wrong. While Michelin does seem to favour particular styles of cuisine, Poullennec insisted there was no one way to win a star.
He said: "We always consider five universal criteria: the quality of the product, the mastery of cooking and techniques, the harmony and balance of flavours, the personality expressed on the plate, and the consistency over time and throughout the menu. These are universal criteria we apply everywhere in the world. The Michelin Guide is not doing any kind of consulting and there is maybe not one way to achieve one-, two- or three-star level."
The chief inspector said restaurants that meet the criteria could range from formal gastronomic destinations to informal bistros or country pubs.
"To combine all the various flavours and textures and contrasts in a dish in a very accomplished way, that is the fundamental element that inspectors look for… it's all about great cooking."
Inspections aren't getting any less rigorous
It's been a difficult few years for hospitality and pressures on staffing, supply, prices and energy bills aren't going away. However, Poullennec said inspectors hadn't given any leniency to restaurants and that the venues visited by Michelin seemed busier than ever.
"We didn't compromise with the quality of our recommendations," he said. "In many destinations one of our main challenges is to find empty seats for inspectors to book and dine out."
The chief inspector said that many of his team were often "hanging on the telephone at midnight with their credit card in order to try and get a reservation in a restaurant that we need to see".
"Restaurants seem very busy, and I think also if you look at the new discoveries inspectors have published this year in Great Britain and Ireland there's been a huge number of new openings," the chief inspector added. "This illustrates that while there are huge challenges to the restaurant industry… it's shown their resilience.
"Inevitably, one or two restaurants have closed, no question, but certainly lots of restaurants have opened. So it's a challenging time. We have to look fundamentally at the quality of the cooking and the service and everything that goes around that."
Pastry chefs could get more recognition
In overseas editions Michelin offers a special pastry chef award and it's keen to introduce similar in Great Britain and Ireland. "I see all the reports that the inspectors submit and I've experienced some magical desserts on my travels," the chief inspector said. "[A pastry award] is something the inspectors would like to see and could give me lots of candidates."
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