The Michelin Guide plans to make its rankings a lot more transparent
Restaurant kitchens are notoriously high-pressure environments in which to work. Michelin-starred kitchens can be on a whole other level.
Because of that, the Michelin Guide has started telling chefs when they’re about to lose a star, The Washington Post reported on 2 March 2023—a demotion that can cause tears, strife and even soul-searching (sometimes even lawsuits). The guide has become attuned to those feelings, making sure that it takes the care to address chefs as human beings, rather than just names on a list.
“We are fully aware of the impact of our decisions for the restaurants concerned,” a spokesperson for the Michelin Guide told the Post. “It’s really important for us to take the time to do it properly,” they added, about reaching out to chefs.
In just one example of the guide’s commitment to breaking the news gently, its international director, Gwendal Poullennec, drove five hours from Paris to La Rochelle, France, to talk with the chef Christopher Coutanceau, whose eponymous restaurant is receiving just two stars in the country’s upcoming guide. The group is also in the process of getting in touch with two dozen other chefs who will lose a star in the 2023 guide.
While receiving a Michelin star is some chefs’ biggest dream, it can be a heavy weight for others. Two Michelin-starred chefs have died by suicide in the past 20 years: Bernard Loiseau in 2003 and Benoit Violier in 2016. Those who knew them have floated the idea that trying to keep their stars may have played a role in their deaths. And in 2017, the Michelin-starred chef Sebastien Bras asked the organisation to get rid of his ranking. “Maybe I will lose notoriety but I accept it,” he said at the time. “I will be able to feel free.”
In the past, the Michelin Guide has also faced criticism for its process, with some claiming that the rankings are rather opaque. But it wants transparency to become part of its regular operations. “We don’t want to surf on a trend [of mental health],” the spokesperson told The Washington Post.
That may be one reassuring step toward a more holistic organisation, but it doesn’t completely put an end to questions about how helpful the guide really is—to both diners and those working in the industry.