The magic of Michelin

The new Michelin Guide 2017 awards were announced with a big fanfare in London, delighting some restaurants and chefs, sending others into misery. You could, if you wanted, watch the ceremony streamed live on the internet.

How things have changed. When I started reviewing, back in the 1980s, Michelin didn’t even bother to inform restaurants first but sent out the results via an embargoed Press release to journalists – giving them enough time to interview and photograph the starry chefs.

So it was in 1994 that I opened my Press release to find that Max Fischer had won a star for the first time at Baslow Hall. I rang to congratulate him and get a quote and was surprised this was the first he’d heard of it. And his reaction wasn’t quite what I imagined. “I suppose we shall get all these people coming wanting steak and strawberries,” he sighed.

I popped over for an interview after patiently explaining that the Sheffield Star, regional newspaper that it might be, certainly wouldn’t give people the idea that Baslow Hall was a steak and strawberries type of place.

Max then might have been the exception then because most chefs would die to get into the famed guide. Sometimes literally. I have eaten, wonderfully, at Bernard Loiseau’s restaurant in Saulieu, Burgundy. Sadly he shot himself in 2003 when he thought he might lose one of his three stars. He didn’t. His widow Dominique continues the business.

There is Michelin magic as far as the hospitality business is concerned. It is an accurate guide as to where to find good food. But it is good food of a certain type. And as some restaurants have found, the pressures of keeping up the standards don’t necessarily lead to success. Some have gone bust.

In Sheffield a few years ago Marcus Lane, then owner of Rafters and the holder of a Bib Gourmand, the award just below a star, asked not to be considered in following years because he thought it added undue pressure.

There will be plenty of headlines over the next few days about Michelin winners and losers but not that many people will buy a copy of the guide itself. Have you got one? The amount of detail it gives about any one place is small. Its value is the publicity and cachet it bestows. Much more user-friendly are publications like the Good Food Guide and Harden’s.

I long ago lost patience with the AA guide when I realised it was handing out rosettes to places not worthy of mention. One leading chef confided it had rung up to get details of the menu over the past year because one of its very few inspectors would not be visiting. Needless to say, this particular restaurant was included. I am sure things are very different now.

At one time this was entitled Egon Ronay’s AA Guide (the Hungarian food critic had previously had run his own guide) but when I pointed out in an article that his main involvement had been to provide his name and write the foreword this provoked a furious letter from the great man himself. I was carpeted for my impudence by a stupid Star executive but stood my ground.

But back to Michelin. Not much luck for places around here but congratulations  to Max and head chef Rupert Rowley for retaining the star once again this year. I don’t think there will be any need to let them know.