There is no such term as a ‘Michelin chef’

Michelin restaurant guide - Michelin stars - Michelin restaurants - FooDivaAn open letter to all restaurateurs, hoteliers, chefs, PRs, journalists and digital influencers in the UAE:

This may come across as a bit of a rant, and it is – but I have bitten my tongue for far too long. Three points to make here.

  1. Firstly, a term often misused here in the UAE, ‘Michelin chef’ is factually incorrect. The Michelin rating system awards stars to restaurants – NOT to individual chefs – with the rating based solely on the quality of the food, which is a collective kitchen team effort not just a credit to the head chef. To explain, a restaurant does not instantly lose its star/s if a head chef departs and is replaced by a new chef – and therefore can still retain the star/s once the head chef has left. Conversely, chefs do not take the star/s with them if they leave, nor do the stars transfer to another restaurant owned by the same chef. The Michelin guide is updated annually and restaurants can lose their stars if they close during the year of assessment, or if they do not maintain their standards over the year. So when Michelin returns to inspect a restaurant for the new guide (with a new chef at the stove), it decides what star rating, if any, it receives. Therefore, the correct descriptor is in fact ‘Michelin restaurant’, or if you want to reference a chef, ‘a chef from a Michelin star restaurant’. Yes, a little long-winded but at least truthful. And if you don’t believe me, here’s Michelin’s response, when I asked for their feedback:

    “Michelin Stars are awarded to establishments serving cuisine, of whatever style, which is of the highest quality. The cuisine is judged on the quality of the ingredients, the skill in their preparation, the combination of flavours, the levels of creativity, value for money and the consistency of culinary standards. For every restaurant awarded a Star we include three specialities that are typical of their cooking style. These specific dishes may not always be available.”

  2. Secondly, the UAE, Dubai in particular, has a habit of promoting establishments here as ‘Michelin-starred restaurants’ or ‘helmed by Michelin chefs’. Again, wrong. Yes, some chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants around the world have consultancy agreements for restaurants in the UAE, but Michelin has yet to start rating the emirates, so these restaurants do NOT sport Michelin stars. On top of that, some may no longer helm Michelin-starred restaurants overseas, yet we still see these chefs referred to here as Michelin chefs. There has been much speculation as to whether Dubai will welcome Michelin (more here); but as of now, the UAE boasts zero ‘Michelin restaurants’.
  3. Thirdly and finally, totalling the number of stars a chef’s restaurants may have, and then attributing these to the chef is also false. The maximum and highest Michelin rating is three stars, so, as an example, to say ‘a chef with eleven stars’ is misleading.

By way of a history lesson, Michelin published its first guide for restaurants and hotel establishments in France in 1900 to encourage more motorists to take to the road (therefore boosting tyre sales). The first stars were awarded in 1926. Now Michelin inspectors review 28 countries around the world – but not the UAE. In preparation for Michelin perhaps inspecting Dubai, here’s how the guide defines the ratings. Note; the Michelin print guides are much more thorough than its websites.

  • One star indicates a very good restaurant in its category; a good place to stop on your journey. Using top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard.
  • Two stars denote excellent cooking; worth a detour. The personality and talent of the chef and their team is evident in the expertly crafted dishes, which are refined, inspired and sometimes original.
  • Three stars reward exceptional cuisine; worth a special journey. Superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession. The ingredients are exemplary, the cooking is elevated to an art form and their dishes are often destined to become classics.

Michelin inspectors do not look at interior decor, table setting, or service quality when awarding stars – however, these are instead indicated by the number of ‘covers’ with ‘fork and spoon’ symbols. Restaurants may receive one fork and spoon symbol to indicate a quite comfortable restaurant, and up to five fork and spoons for luxurious restaurants. To confuse matters, the most delightful places get red fork and spoon symbols (as opposed to black). Similarly, wine and cocktail lists are highlighted separately.

Rant over. Here’s an interesting link from the Singaporean edition of Michelin which debunks five myths about the guide.

Would you be so kind to spread the word by sharing this letter pretty please? Much appreciated 🙂

Merci beaucoup,

FooDiva. x

There is no such term as a ‘Michelin chef’. I have bitten my tongue for far too long and written an open letter to all restaurateurs, hoteliers, chefs, PRs, journalists and digital influencers in the UAE explaining that Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants NOT the chefs. The rating is based on the quality of the food, a collective kitchen team effort, not just a credit to the head chef. Statement from the @michelinguide is included, as well as some related myths debunked. Link in profile if you would like to read my rant ?. Would love if you can share this letter as widely as possible pretty please. Much appreciated ?. ?: divine deer doughnuts at two Michelin star The Ledbury in London. ?? #michelinstar #mystorywithmichelin

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8 Responses to “There is no such term as a ‘Michelin chef’”

  1. IshitaUnblogged July 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks so much for this… Dave has drilled this into my head. I am always writing now Michelin famed chef etc etc… I agree a very long winding process. One thing I wasn’t aware of was that the rating takes only FOOD & SERVICE into consideration and not the decor etc

    • FooDiva July 17, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Thanks Ishita. If I was to be argumentative, I would say Michelin famed chef is misleading too! But then I am pedantic. Oddly Michelin does not rate service when dishing out stars – only food. But to confuse matters, it has a separate ‘fork and spoon’ rating which covers surroundings and service. Not something I agree with!

      • IshitaUnblogged July 18, 2017 at 11:13 am

        Just one point of clarification here… so there could be a shabby shack with three Michelin stars? I think it becomes a bit more confusing with World’s 50 Best, where all of the restaurants listed (and the few that I have tried) are so elite in terms of locale, decor etc. What is the main difference between these two sets of ratings?

        • FooDiva July 18, 2017 at 1:38 pm

          Strictly speaking yes, but I expect an inspector will be influenced by the decor and the service when dining on three star calibre food, so I doubt you will find one of the Singaporean hawker stalls getting three stars! The criteria for World’s 50 Best is more vague than Michelin who simply ask judges to nominate what they feel qualifies as ‘best’ restaurants so it’s much more subjective. I agree when you look at what makes the cut, the top 10 in World’s 50 Best restaurants are more innovative in both cuisine and surroundings – with three star Michelin more traditional, French-style cooking. Like with all these awards and lists, it’s wise to take them with a pinch of salt. Always a good idea to do your own online research by reading critic’s reviews and those from actual paying guests.

  2. Dave Reeder July 20, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Great to have another voice of sanity in this debate! I think that chefs generally know what a Michelin star represents but over-keen PR and marketing people take shortcuts… The question of a guide for Dubai and/or the UAE would, I think, depend on three things. Firstly, the cost of the operation (where are the qualified inspectors, for example?) plus the additional marketing cost to get people to understand what properly awarded stars represent; secondly, the potential market. What proportion of residents would buy a guide when a large number, it seems, are more interested in style over substance or the presence of all-you-can-eat brunches and drink deals; lastly, it would take Michelin into all sorts of cuisines that, traditionally as a Euro-centric company, it has not had experience of. Just think how long it took to tackle Japan for its first guide… And, as a last point without wishing to stir up another hornet’s nest, there’s not actually ‘stars’, are they? Just look at the pictogram… Somewhere in the back of the brain is the correct French word, but basically they’re rosettes!

    • FooDiva July 20, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Well I think you inspired me to finally write this letter Dave! You’d be surprised it’s not just the PRs but coming from much higher up; I contacted a few of these big-name chefs with consultancy agreements here in Dubai – and they either declined to comment publicly, or were very vague in their response ignoring the issue at hand. Michelin will only start rating Dubai if it makes commercial sense – they have publicly stated that. Dubai will sponsor them in the build up to 2020. As for the rosettes, we’ve had that discussion a number of times -Michelin is adamant these are stars!

  3. Riccardo July 31, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Great article, I am so happy that someone finally starts talking some sense around these misconceptions of the Michelin rating… (btw I told you four years ago in the comments of your article “is Dubai ready for Michelin” that service was not a criteria to obtain stars, I am glad you finally realize it :))

    I would add to the article also that, often chef from 2 or 3 stars Michelin restaurants go for more casual concepts when they open a restaurant abroad (think of Heinzbeck’s Taste of Italy or Gagnaire’s Choix which are good yet casual concepts).

    So if we see in this region restaurants advertising a Michelin star food experiences, they are most of the time not only inaccurate, they are also clearly misrepresenting the experience your are going to get.

    RE ISHITAUNBLOGGED comment: Not all restaurant in San Pellegrino 50’s Best list have elite decor, setting etc. I can think of at least three I have been which have a casual setting such as Relae in Cophenagen , Den in Tokyo or Chateaubriend (now in top 100) in Paris…

    Anyway, personally I can’t wait for the Michelin guide to arrive in Dubai, it will open the eyes of many foodies and reward currently undervalued but outstanding restaurants (on this respect Foodiva you should write a full review of Dragonfly, which is in my opinion one of the best restaurant in Dubai today and yet often empty… I know I know no alcohol license :()

    • FooDiva August 1, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Long time Riccardo; thanks for popping by again!

      What’s interesting is I think Michelin may have changed some of its criteria – if you reference my article five years ago, their definitions for each star rating was much longer and more defined than what is on their new website: which didn’t exist back then. It’s almost become more vague now. Anyhow, this is just my assumption, not a confirmation. What I find ludicrous is that when an inspector is dining in what could possibly be a three-star restaurant or even one or two star for that matter, are Michelin saying he/ she won’t be influenced by the service? Of course if the service is sloppy it will get downgraded am sure. Anyhow, I am the first to admit that I learn every day on the job, whether it’s from cooking at home, dining out, or from my followers, so the time you take to comment is much appreciated 🙂

      Both Pierre Gagnaire and Heinz Beck first opened high-end restaurants here before branching into casual concepts – and as we know the former closed down, sadly. But you’re right in the respect of Virgilio Martinez and Tim Raue. And I understand Gaggan is looking at a casual concept here – that’s how they will make money to fund their flagship restaurant! Here’s my interview with Tim in case you’re interested: I wonder how long it’s going to last in that location… I never got round to reviewing Dragonfly even though I did have a quick lunch there. Unless the concept is really quirky and home grown, like 3 Fils for instance, unlicensed restaurants don’t get much traction on the site.

      Re. Ishita’s comment the top ten are certainly not casual and even the top 20, but I agree further down the list they are. Love Relae by the way 😉

I’d love to receive your feedback, so feel free to comment any time.