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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michelin stars Italy 2008: questions and answers

Our reader Jan Philip asks today some interesting questions about an old post of ours on the Michelin guide Italy 2008. To raise his questions and our reply above the obscurity of the comment section of a November post, we report both of them here:

Jan's queries:

'From which sources do you know that the three stars for Germany are given too freely? Have you any dining experience with german or japanese high end restaurants? How do you think you can give a more objective view than the Michelin guide and its team of inspectors? I think you should at least do some comparison before you make such judgements
Nevertheless I enjoyed your website - keep on
Jan Philip'

Our reply:

'Hi Jan,

thanks for your comment on our blog.

We never said that stars are given 'too freely' in Japan and Germany.

We just noted what is under everybody's eyes, and made news around the world: the objective abundance of stars in Japan and Germany compared to historical standards.

An abundance which maybe is deserved, maybe not: as you note, we cannot say (though watch this space as we have an upcoming trip to Germany...). The term 'lavishness' was used by us in the plain dictionary term of: 'To give or bestow in abundance'.

Our remark was not original. This is from the Times (20 Nov 2007), for example:

'Tokyo, the neon-clad home of the pickled sea-slug and horseradish chocolate, has eclipsed Paris, London and New York to become, officially, the most delicious city on earth.'

And somebody who knows about stars and the working of the Michelin guide, Ferran Adria' himself, while fully praising Jiro (the three-star sushi bar in the Tokyo metro station), noted the 'epochal turn' of the guide.

So we are simply not naively pretending that nothing is changing in the Michelin firmament.

What we continue to find truly remarkable is that one of the great traditions of cuisine on earth, the Italian one, is so little represented in this firmament. There must be something positively wrong with Italian chefs, an inability deeply seated and genetically ingrained if, despite being fortunate to draw on such a great tradition, they are incapable of cooking at high international standards according to Michelin. This genetic inability is confirmed by the fact that, of already very few three stars restaurants in Italy, two belong to non-Italian chefs. It will be a great scientist he or she who eventually discovers the gene of Italian cooking inability.

You can see we've got a gripe...

Finally, we are not sure whether or not we can make 'more objective' judgments than the Michelin inspectors. Michelin clads its mode of operation and its criteria in such a thick veil of secrecy, that it is is hard to tell. Certainly, when details come out, they are not always flattering for Michelin, as you are no doubt aware, but we don't want to rub it in. Let's say that like for any organisation, there are some things to like in Michelin - not least its simple classification system (no silly 'x and a half' points) - and some weak spots.

The only claims we make for ourselves are these: 1) nothing, absolutely nothing, informs our judgments beside our tastebuds and eyes 2) we have lived and breathed Italian cuisine for all our lives 3) we can make detailed comparisons at all levels with the restaurants of one great city, London. 4) we are not paid professionals but ordinary paying customers, so we have a keen eye on value for money as well.

Beyond that, the culinary world is for us a big and fascinating dark theatre that we to hope to continue to explore.


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