Who is a Michelin-starred chef cooking for? Clue: It’s not you.

Who is a Michelin-starred chef cooking for? Clue: It’s not you.
Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

Here’s a topic to chew over next time you dine in a posh palace: An Irish chef in London who specialises in the humble potato has gained not one, but two, Michelin stars for her efforts. Yet superchef Marco Pierre White handed back his Michelin stars 20 years ago this year. Thing is, chefs go for a Michelin star – they work to get it, twist and shake their ingredients to attain it. But shouldn’t they be focusing on what their customers might like to eat? Food Mole was just wondering.

You sell tyres and I sell food.” Ouch. Take that, Michelin. That’s what Marco Pierre White told an Asian website about the French tyre-maker-turned-poncy-restaurant-promoter when they tried to offload another star or two on to him, according to The Telegraph. The context was White’s new Singapore restaurant, The English House, specialising in modern British cuisine.

White, who Food Mole is said to resemble in good light and with a bit of Photoshopping, has said in the past that maintaining three stars (even one) is “pretty boring” and he is not the only Michelin-belaurelled chef to have called having one “a curse”.

In early 2018, French chef Sebastian Bras informed Michelin that he wanted to be delisted despite having held stars for most of two decades. He no longer wanted to work under the pressure of working towards either attaining or maintaining a Michelin rating, he said. He’d prefer diners at his Le Suquet to chill out and have a great meal, while he enjoyed himself back stage.

He told AFP that when you have a Michelin star you’re inspected two or three times a year and “never know when” the secretive reviewers might be in, and that the strain of just one dish having you lose your star had become too much. He was happier to take his starry fate into his own hands.

In September 2018 the Welch family that owns The Checkers in Powys, near the ancestral seat of the Prince of Wales, gave up their Michelin rating for the simple desire to get their family time back. The late Alain Senderins, regarded as the originator of food and wine pairings, and who died in 2017, had held Michelin stars for years but ditched them in 2o05 to open a simple, cheerful joint where the greatest pressure was in pleasing palates. Olivier Roellinger put 24 years of Michelin stars for his Le Relais Gourmand in Brittany behind him when he closed shop for simple reasons of health. His legs couldn’t take the pressure.

There are many more such stories. The point is this: Why do chefs open restaurants? To indulge in their passion for cooking and to bask in the thrill of having their customers swoon over your food? Or to win accolades?

And if the chef is not focusing on your palate, but on the imagined palates of uninvited spy-critics who might or might not be in that night (given they only pop in two or three times a year), isn’t that all a bit arse about face, if you’ll pardon Food Mole’s choice of phrase?

The “humble potato” at the heart of London-based Irish chef Clare Smyth’s Core restaurant, by the way, isn’t really all that humble. Bloomberg’s Richard Vines reports that her chosen spud is the Charlotte, which is “slow-cooked in a marinade of butter and seaweed, then allowed to marinate for another 24 hours before being topped with smoked trout and herring roe from Scotland and served with beurre blanc. It comes with miniature salt-and-vinegar crisps that cut through the richness of the butter and provide crunch for texture.”

Okay, that does sound inventive, and intriguing, and attention-getting. But it would be interesting to know what drives this particular chef – the potato, the customers, the attaining of supposed Michelin-greatness?

Now, Food Mole is well aware that he (or she?) has been known to frequent restaurants uninvited and then to write about them. However, the chefs are not cooking for Food Mole; they’re cooking for their customers, whether or not Food Mole is in the house. Unless, that is, they have Michelin stars. In which case, we know who they’re cooking for. DM


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