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The Trouble With the Michelin Guide

January 16, 2013

In Vanity Fair, the always-caustic A.A. Gill offers a short history of the Michelin restaurant guide—and how it all went wrong:

The Michelin guide also created a new type of customer, the foodie trainspotter, people who aren't out for a good meal with friends but want to tick a cultural box and have bragging rights on some rare effete spirit. Michelin-starred restaurants began to look and taste the same: the service would be cloying and oleaginous, the menus vast and clotted with verbiage. The room would be hushed, the atmosphere religious. The food would be complicated beyond appetite. And it would all be ridiculously expensive. So, Michelin spawned restaurants that were based on no regional heritage or ingredient but grew out of cooks' abused vanity, insecurity, and fawning hunger for compliments.

Being French, of course the guide has always been the subject of conspiracy theories regarding the allocation of stars, the number of inspectors, and their quality and disinterest. Having made the hierarchy of chefs, the guide found that it was in its interest to maintain it. A handful of grand and gluttonous kitchens seemed to keep their rating long after their fashion and food faded. Michelin evolved from the wandering Candide of food to become the creeping Richelieu: manipulative, obsessive, and secretive.

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