Does Michelin Matter?
Last week Michelin released its 2007 guide to New
York City’s restaurants and hotels. StarChefs was invited
to moderate a panel to discuss the release of the guide, featuring
Jean-Luc Naret, the director of the guide, restaurateur Barry Wine,
and food journalists Bryan Miller and Pascale leDraoulec. After
a discussion of challenges, processes, history and future of the
Michelin rating system and guide, we left the panel asking ourselves:
does Michelin matter in New York?
Fine dining chefs and restaurateurs say yes, especially
those raised or trained in Europe, where the red guide reigns supreme.
As do Asian and European tourists, who use the guide to map out
their visits. But the jury’s still out with the New York dining
public. The average New Yorker is still not likely to pick up a
guide when deciding where to eat out, if only for the basic reason
of timing – Michelin is just not current enough, or at least
not as current as the many other sources of weekly, even daily,
information better equipped for the city’s constant state
of flux. In tackling New York, Michelin faced the challenge of adapting
to the lifespan of the city’s restaurants; which often all
too short in comparison to the majority of the restaurants featured
in the European guides.
The rigorous inspection process that includes 8-12
visits to each starred restaurant is what makes Michelin so prestigious
and, in New York, what threatens to make it out of date. The fluidity
caused two major exclusions from the 2007 guide: Gilt,
set to receive two stars but cut at the last moment due to a changing
of the guard, and Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, which
was not included because it will be closed for renovation and relocation
in January. StarChefs was surprised that Aquavit, L'Impero
and Alto did not receive stars, and even more shocked that
Sumile was excluded all together.
In its current yearly form, Michelin admittedly
has trouble getting their arms around the lifespan of a typical
NY restaurant and the mood of the typical NY diner. The reading
list of a food-savvy New Yorker headed out for dinner can include
City Search, NY Times, the New Yorker, New York Magazine and Time
Out, to name a few. And for a printed yearly guide, American diners
are more likely to turn to Zagat’s. Of our New York readers,
only 10% use the 2006 Michelin guide often, and 50% don’t
use it at all, compared to 75% that turn to Zagats (see
the Michelin Survey Results). So added to the issue of timeliness
of print vs.online media is that of local competition, which in
a market as scrutinized as New York, is a force to be reckoned with.
So what’s next for the guide? Naret hinted
at expansion to other cities but refused to give any leads. Michelin’s
future in America depends on what it’s looking for. If it’s
revenue, one of the high-profile international tourists spots (Washington
DC or Las Vegas) should be next. If it’s publicity, then New
Orleans. But if its aim is to recognize culinary excellence and
solidify a reputation as a serious gastronomic guide to America,
we expect Chicago or Boston would most likely be next on the list.