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Undercover, uh, food, lover.
November 18, 2009 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Michelin inspectors have been anonymous as CIA spooks. Until now. And now. The New Yorker has a rare interview with one.
posted by converge (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nonsense. Michelin men are easily recognized by their enormous size, white color, chipper demeanour and the many tire-like bulges around their limbs and torso.

But this is a very interesting read, nonetheless, thank you. Three stars.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:01 AM on November 18, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'm torn. On one hand, I think it is reprehensible that a Michelin critic would ever out themselves. It does not speak well of their longevity and utility. This feels like a search for stardom and fame from the critique side...
--
With that said, if you want to understand food - from a chef's perspective, from a critic's perspective, and/or you want to be a sous chef (and be able to ensure the quality of the food that leaves the kitchen). Only one section needs to be read:

“It’s not really a ‘like’ and a ‘not like,’ ” she said. “It’s an analysis. You’re eating it and you’re looking for the quality of the products. At this level, they have to be top quality. You’re looking at ‘Was every single element prepared exactly perfectly, technically correct?’ And then you’re looking at the creativity. Did it work? Did the balance of ingredients work? Was there good texture? Did everything come together? Did something overpower something else? Did something not work with something else?

This. This 1000 times...
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:19 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Fascinating, thank you . . .

For more background and an interesting amateur review of the declined-in-quality but untouchable-by-inspectors Paul Bocuse restuarant in Lyon that's mentioned in the article check out this
posted by protorp at 4:21 AM on November 18, 2009


You’re looking at ‘Was every single element prepared exactly perfectly, technically correct?’ And then you’re looking at the creativity. Did it work? Did the balance of ingredients work? Was there good texture? Did everything come together? Did something overpower something else? Did something not work with something else?

Not only is technical perfection on the list, but it's ranked above the actual taste?

I give one star to this rating system.
posted by DU at 4:47 AM on November 18, 2009


I interpreted the first sentence of the post as the critics actually being CIA spooks. I shouldn't be MetaFiltering before coffee.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:10 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Well, wouldn't preparing something correctly (say, as opposed to boiling a steak), be a major component in making it taste good?
posted by cavalier at 5:22 AM on November 18, 2009


Well, wouldn't preparing something correctly (say, as opposed to boiling a steak), be a major component in making it taste good?

But if I don't like it, it doesn't matter. A well-baked turd, remains a turd.
posted by msbrauer at 5:31 AM on November 18, 2009


If I was a restaurant owner, I would always be on the lookout for this guy...
posted by horsemuth at 5:38 AM on November 18, 2009


oh, I guess gnfti beat me to it...
posted by horsemuth at 5:42 AM on November 18, 2009


She eats the maximum number of courses offered ... and she is required to eat everything on her plate.

And here I told my Mom that nothing in life would ever require me to eat everything on my plate. Guess I owe her a side dish of string beans.
posted by Spatch at 5:45 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if I don't like it, it doesn't matter. A well-baked turd, remains a turd.

That right there is the reason why technical perfection should be more important than "taste." Taste is too subjective to hang the rating on. If you don't like turds, then you shouldn't be going to a turd restaurant, even if it has 3 Michelin stars. On the other hand, for turd-lovers, a 3-star rating in the Michelin guide will let them know that there is exquisite attention to detail given to each and every turd souffle.
posted by explosion at 5:50 AM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


She eats the maximum number of courses offered ... and she is required to eat everything on her plate.

And here I told my Mom that nothing in life would ever require me to eat everything on my plate.


I interpreted that as, "she must eat (some of) everything on her plate." There's no reason to gorge oneself at a restaurant , especially if you're eating multiple courses. Just make sure you're trying everything if you're rating the meal.
posted by explosion at 5:51 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Its too bad that with all the mention of three-star restaurants and whatnot, that the Michelin guide is associated with snobbery. In Europe, the Michelin red guide is really one of the best ways to find great places to eat - and yes, this includes tiny family-run, hole-in-the-wall eateries. Everything from fresh, honest, simple cooking to more elaborate cuisine is in there.

Of course it varies greatly by country. The Italy Michelin guide is quite good with a very strong focus toward quality (taste, freshness) rather than on innovation. The France guides are a bit more hit and miss. My Paris guide has been a bit slow to acknowledge the rise of the bistronomiques and still places too much emphasis on the grand tables, I think.

In general, the city guides are a bit more random. And I would stay away from any place that has any kind of star chef, in any country. The places where the guides stand out are in the rural locations. Places in the middle of nowhere that get mentioned by Michelin are almost always worth the detour.
posted by vacapinta at 5:52 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always torn when I have friends over for meals. It doesn't happen often. There's always that temptation to pull out all the stops and do something extravagant. But of course it never works, because if you've never made a dish before, even if you follow a recipe (especially if you follow a recipe), you don't understand its gestalt; you don't know what makes it WORK as a dish, as a flavour, as a texture, as an experience. So I just make red sauce on fresh pasta with a salad of whatever is in season. Of course the sauce is never the same twice, because it's never the same day twice; the tomatoes taste different, the spices blend a different way, it's warm or cold outside... but I know how to make that dish work.

What's so amazing about top chefs is the capability to make hundreds of dishes work, for dozens or hundreds of plates a day. A credible achievement, something to ascend to after decades of practice and experience.

This is what Michelin is about: acknowledgment of that achievement.

There's nothing wrong with the fresh cut fries and a grilled dog from the truck across the street from the CBC centre in downtown Toronto -- it's a fantastic meal, and a landmark destination. But that guy will never get a mention in the Guide. He's just like me: he's perfected his one dish.

You don't get listed for one dish, no matter how perfect. You get listed -- you get stars -- for being able to make everything you serve work perfectly, every time it's served.

Fucking amazing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:14 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rudy will await your foundation (NSFW Audio)
posted by phirleh at 6:29 AM on November 18, 2009


Also DU, I think the rating system already does include taste, with the question "Does it work". If you're a good professional cook, making things 'tasty' is no problem, whether it's a pork belly or a vinaigrette or pickles or ravioli. When you're at that level, it's no longer, 'can I make this thing tasty,' but 'can I make these known vectors of tastiness and texture and aroma produce something exciting? what tweaks would that require?'

I know a couple of people who think this way and while I'm a pretty good amateur cook, they just have an intuitive sense of food that (usually) makes the question 'is it tasty' superfluous. It is always tasty. But it works to varying degrees.
posted by voronoi at 6:50 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


...as opposed to boiling a steak...

You mean you haven't tried sous-vide yet?
posted by TedW at 6:51 AM on November 18, 2009


I read this article, and I didn't think it was all that interesting, at least in terms of the guide's own revelations. Technical execution is paramount, they have to order every course, and they usually eat alone and have to fill out a giant form afterwards --- well, you don't say. Some of the tidbits about how they're chosen and trained were interesting --- 35,000 applicants? Dude. But I if they're going to go to all the trouble of letting one speak, I'd have been more curious to know how they deal with a restaurant on the border between stars --- do the reviewers themselves make a call? Some of the quotes seemed to indicate that the stars are awarded by committee, based on the evidence of the reviews --- do they go back more often to border line joints? How do they decide?

Bruni's whinge-fest at the end of his run was more revealing, because it opened up a bit about the difficulties and annoyances of trying to sample a broad range of a restaurant's offerring while still pretending to eat a normal meal.
posted by Diablevert at 7:07 AM on November 18, 2009


She wore a light-blue dress with a high neckline, little makeup, and no jewelry

Shouldn't this be "light blue dress"? What's happening?
posted by kenko at 8:09 AM on November 18, 2009


I interpreted the first sentence of the post as the critics actually being CIA spooks.

That's the story I wanted, too. It even made sense, since the loopy travels all over the world would provide convenient cover.

("Have been as anonymous as...." might have helped, nudge nudge.)
posted by rokusan at 8:36 AM on November 18, 2009


She wore a light-blue dress with a high neckline, little makeup, and no jewelry

Shouldn't this be "light blue dress"?


The New Yorker's style guide is like no other, actually. Where else will you see "coöperative" in print in today's media?
posted by hippybear at 8:46 AM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I interpreted the first sentence of the post as the critics actually being CIA spooks.

Well, there is that other CIA.
posted by kmz at 8:57 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where else will you see "coöperative" in print in today's media?

The minutes of every Dethklok band meeting.
posted by rokusan at 9:11 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mmmmm, milk steak.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:27 AM on November 18, 2009


CIA spook and culinarian? that was Julia Child...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:31 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


To this day, whenever I heard about Le Guide Michelin, all I can think of is L'aile ou la cuisse, which we watched in one of my high school French classes.
posted by usonian at 9:36 AM on November 18, 2009


I judge the New Yorker article to be one star. I expected a few choice anecdotes from the inspector instead of the shocking revelations that she's educated, serious and works hard.
posted by digsrus at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2009


Where else will you see "coöperative" in print in today's media?

Everywhere, if I had my druthers.
posted by kenko at 9:59 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


So that's how they do it. I've eaten at 3 star Michelin restaurants just twice in my life -- they were both sublime. Frankly, a restaurant with a single star from Michelin is usually worth trying. Nice to look behind the curtain and see the work that produces this result.

Michelin's other guides are pretty fabulous too, at least for European travel.
posted by bearwife at 10:01 AM on November 18, 2009


Shouldn't this be "light blue dress"?

The general rule is "hyphenate compound adjectives if they come before the noun they modify." The MLA says this, Chicago says this, The Economist says this, the two companies I've edited for have said this, and I can only assume the APA, the NYT style guide, the AP style guide, and so on would agree.
posted by Dr. Send at 10:06 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, wouldn't preparing something correctly (say, as opposed to boiling a steak), be a major component in making it taste good?

But if I don't like it, it doesn't matter. A well-baked turd, remains a turd.


msbrauer, may I propose: if there is even the slightest chance in the world that a technically perfect dish that you chose to order would taste like a turd to you, you probably should avoid restaurant critic jobs?

I've sent back a Caprese salad made with soured mozzarella, a dish of rubbery calimari, another of rubbery, tasteless shrimp, but never ever would consider a dish unlovable if it was properly prepared.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:17 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I prefer light-blue, hyphenated, because it's one property (unlike, say, short black skirt). It's possible you meant that the dress was both light and blue, but probably not.

Of course, when it comes to that particular style choice (ahem) I tend to over-hyphenate myself, and there are about sixty-seven bajillion MeFi comments that will testify to this. I like to think I am choosing clarity over elegance, but it's quite possibly just a pretentious tic.
posted by rokusan at 10:18 AM on November 18, 2009


I know the rule, Dr. Send, and was about to declare myself temporarily insane when I saw in the CMS: "colors: emerald green, bluish green, coal black, a green and red dress, a black-and-white print, the truth isn’t black and white. (Open whether before or after a noun except for such established expressions as black-and-white, which are usually hyphenated before a noun.)".
posted by kenko at 10:26 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


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