The Michelin star? It's the dream of every chef. Actually, no. Many have tried to escape the red guide's empire. The latest to do so is Francis Mallmann, the fire chef who holds nothing back on Instagram. But Michelin responds: "It's mostly gentlemen's agreements."
A post on Instagram by Francis Mallmann, the "fire chef," is sparking discussions, alongside a New York Times article titled "Michelin Stars Bring Prestige, but They Come at a Cost," related to the guide's arrival in Colorado. He says, "Even Argentina recently paid the $600,000 fee to be part of the guide. They said they would award stars to restaurants in Buenos Aires and Mendoza (where I have my 1884, opened 25 years ago). The stars will be announced in November. After nearly fifty years of professional cooking, I sincerely hope not to receive one. And if I did, I wouldn't accept it. Let us share bread, thoughts, and romance. Holding hands as long as there is hope."
Over 22,000 people, including wine guru James Suckling, applauded him. But Mallmann is not the first chef to try to escape the red guide's empire. Others who have shared the grand refusal in the past include Marco Pierre White and Alain Senderens, Gualtiero Marchesi, Marc Veyrat, and Sebastien Bras. In 2008, the great Marchesi returned his two macarons, disappearing from the red guide forever, saying, "Critics, from now on, I'll criticize you." Before him, in 1999, the rebellious genius Marco Pierre White rejected three stars, saying, "I didn't feel free; if I hadn't done it, I would have died behind the stoves." The alleged incompetence of the inspectors is being questioned, as they "know less than we do." Then there's the limitation of creativity, the maintenance cost, the stress, and the unbearable weight of expectations. Many, famous or not, have chosen downshifting, in line with the spirit of the times. For example, Frederick Dhooge in Flanders claimed his right to serve fried chicken, or La Lisita in Nîmes, which opted for a brasserie style.
However, things are not that simple, given the intangible right to critique, which reduces chefs' petitions to a "metropolitan legend," sometimes acknowledged with a raised eyebrow. The inspectors are, in fact, anonymous paying customers who cannot be simply turned away. So, those who sued the guide, like Marc Veyrat, who suffered severe post-demotion depression, lost and faced a truly stellar compensation claim (30,000 euros). The Korean chef Eo Yun-gwon, at the helm of an Italian cuisine restaurant in Seoul, also tried to be absent from the guide from the beginning. "Many restaurant owners waste money, soul, and time chasing the mirage of a star, but the guide is blinded by money, lacks philosophy, and forcibly includes establishments against their will; there are thousands of restaurants of the same or better quality, more honest, and it's curious that only 170 represent Seoul."
To be honest, the star was then denied to him, confirming what Roberto Restelli, former director of the Italian guide until 2000, when he moved to group communications, claims: in many cases, it's a gentlemen's agreement, in anticipation of the impending loss already taken for granted "The anonymity of the inspectors is a condition that has favored full judgment autonomy, but, on the other hand, has created a rich conspiracy theory on how to obtain stars. I've heard everything: that you need to buy products, especially French wines, but also tires to win the Guide's favor, or that there are payments to be made. In the case of what could be called bribes, it's pure invention; stars are not lost because you haven't paid or haven't bought certain products. Michelin doesn't rely on the Guide and can afford an independence that few can boast.
There are also rumors about who loses stars. The most intricate situation arises when one declines the stars supposedly by those who don't attain the stars and declare they don't want them. This is particularly intriguing for those who genuinely seek to surrender them. There have been cases due to a radical change in direction, Driven by the desire for a more peaceful life or a financially sustainable business, and credit should be given to those who communicated it. But in other cases, it was a gentlemen's agreement, allowing famous personalities to exit the Guide without demotion. I'm biased, but I doubt there can be a more impartial judgment mechanism. The Michelin meter may be 99 centimeters, but what's important is that it continues to be everywhere."
However, The New York Times doesn't hold back, pointing out how "the exclusive Michelin organization accepts money from various sponsors, which may sway the undercover inspectors when granting a mention." In some US cities, there have also been concerns about the absence of inspectors, where restaurants were not associated.
Cover photo: @Delfo Rodriguez