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Tyred of secrecy

16 March 2005 by
Tyred of secrecy

Hear mention of the name "Michelin" and you are likely to have two thoughts: tyres and restaurants. The Michelin brand is a triumph of marketing, a byword for excellence. Even people whose familiarity with the world of fine dining extends no further than the Sunday carvery in their local pub appreciate that to have a Michelin star, or stars, denotes culinary brilliance.

So it was a surprise and a disappointment to learn, this week, that Michelin's Benelux edition has been pulped after it was found to carry a review for a restaurant as yet unopened. The revelation has delivered a substantial dent to the guide's credibility, and introduced an element of scepticism around the way it reviews and grades restaurants.

AA Gill's pronouncements may infuriate restaurateurs who fall foul of his weekly Sunday Times column, but at least, when he adjudges a restaurant to be either the dog's bollocks or a dog's dinner, he is prepared to explain his decision and set his name to the review.

In contrast, we know next to nothing about the shadowy figures who generate Michelin guides - nothing of their backgrounds or qualifications, the training they receive or the processes they follow. All of which would matter not a jot, if they didn't wield so much influence. But Michelin inspectors' verdicts can make or break a business. With apologies to Bruce Forsyth, stars mean diners.

It is time Michelin parted the veil of secrecy draping its starring process. Until it does, restaurateurs attempting to second-guess the criteria by which stars are awarded will remain in the dark.

Join the outpouring of aid The final countdown is on for next Monday's UNICHEF event, the Caterer-backed charity initiative to raise funds for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Well over 100 restaurants and food outlets across the country, ranging from remote tearooms to cosmopolitan fine-dining rooms, have pledged a percentage of the night's takings.

If you have already pledged your support to the cause, good on you. If not (and, of course, we do appreciate that non-participation in UNICHEF may simply mean you have contributed by some other means), it's not too late to contact Unicef and join the massed ranks of food outlets doing their bit.

There are full details of how to get involved in this week's news pages, or you can register your involvement at Caterer-online.com.

More than a hakelover Masterclass this month focuses on the talents of award-winning Spanish chef Francis Paniego and his use of Spanish hake. On page 30, he shares his recipe for the centuries-old dish merluza confitada, which sees this juicy fish both fast-fried and confited in warm oil. Paniego explains to Michael Raffael the differences between the large, line-caught hake he gets from the Bay of Biscay off the north-west Spanish coast and that sold in the UK.
Joanna Wood, Chef editor

More than a makeover Refurbishments are a trial for general managers at the best of times. So imagine being faced with a £30m makeover while your hotel goes into receivership and subsequently changes ownership. Amanda Scott, general manager of the Waldorf Hilton in London, faced the challenge head on and, on page 26, explains how - using a butterfly as a metaphor to motivate her staff - she managed it all with minimal disruption to her guests.
Ben Walker, Commissioning editor

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