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Saturday, January 22, 2022

What makes a meal worthy of the Michelin guide?

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photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP (Getty Images)

Every so often a company develops a marketing ploy so effective that it transcends the branding it was originally intended to represent and instead become an inseparable part of pop culture. The Michelin star concept is just one of these marketing plots and this weekend I got to try my first meal cooked by a chef from a Michelin starred restaurant at Petit Le Mans.

It all starts with two brothers and their thriving tire business.

Full Disclosure: I was invited by Michelin to the IMSA Petit Le Mans race. While I was there to take care of the tire logistics, the company offered me a great meal cooked by a chef from a Michelin starred restaurant, who was very kind because, while I love delicious food and great wine, I know a lot about it. little Either way he would have been just as happy with canned mac n ‘cheese and some barefoot.

Walking through the streets of the turn of the century in France

From their rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France, brothers André and Édouard Michelin saw the potential in the tire market when a cyclist brought a tire that needed repair. By all accounts, that repair was a failure, but the Michelin brothers took it as an opportunity to learn. Two years later, Michelin patented the removable tire.

It wasn’t long before the tire found a new use in the burgeoning automobile, but the farsighted Michelin brothers wanted to give people a reason to hit the road, and they wanted the nearly 3,000 motorists in France to have a reason to associate Michelin tires with the pleasure to travel.

Thus, in 1900, Michelin published the Michelin Guide. This handy booklet explained to drivers everything they needed to make a successful trip behind the wheel: where to find gas stations or mechanics, how to repair or replace faulty vehicle components, and which hotels and restaurants to try. That first free run saw Michelin distribute 35,000 copies.

To say people loved it would be an understatement. Ten years later, Michelin had introduced similar guides for Algeria, Tunisia, Belgium, Switzerland, Bavaria, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the British Isles, North Africa, Italy and Corsica. They also produced some English language versions of the traveler’s guide.

It seems that the goal of getting drivers on the road by providing them with a comprehensive list of things to see has been successful in Michelin’s favor. The company has provided travelers with much-needed service and in exchange has matched its name to travel for decades to come.

Earning a Michelin star

The Michelin star concept didn’t come into the picture until 1926, the multi-star system didn’t appear until 1931, and the criteria for establishing those stars didn’t come until 1936. The brothers drew inspiration from other travel guides. which provided similar rankings for restaurants. The goal was to reward some restaurants for the quality of their cuisine.

Here’s how the Michelin Guide divided its star awards at the time:

  • One star: an excellent restaurant in its category
  • Two stars: excellent cuisine, worth a detour
  • Three Stars: Outstanding cuisine, worth a special trip

So, not exactly detailed, but the stars gave you an idea of ​​which restaurants were good. If you were in town looking for a nice dinner, you would opt for the one star restaurant. If you were looking to spend an evening, you might want to opt for a two-star venue. And those coveted three-star restaurants were the kind you planned entire trips to.

Since then, the star assignment process has become more opaque. Michelin reviewers are anonymous eaters who walk into a restaurant and see what it has to offer without ever being announced as such. Reviewers are not allowed to tell anyone about their work, not even their parents. Basically, you want to rate this restaurant based on the performance it would give to anyone. These reviewers then get together to decide which restaurants are worthy of which star.

Today, France retains the largest number of Michelin-starred restaurants, with a total of 628. The United States, by comparison, has 169. As you can imagine, most of the best restaurants here are located in New York and California. , even if he can control this list to find the ones near you.

A Michelin star meal

Michelin awards the stars not to individual chefs but to entire restaurants, but the chef that Michelin brought to Petit Le Mans, Gary Menes, more or less And Le Comptoir, his one-star restaurant in Los Angeles, California. He’s one of the few employees working at the restaurant, and he and his team do everything from welcoming guests to cooking the food to plates at the end of the night.

This is partly possible because Le Comptoir offers a unique seat of 10 people three nights a week. Prices for the eight-course dinner run around $ 175 for the food itself, but if you opt for wine pairings with each course, you’ll add $ 105 to that price tag. Menes and his crew served us seven courses inspired by local foods from North Georgia and the Californian base of Le Comptoir.

Here’s how our menu rocked. Be prepared for many long wine names and my thoughts on the plate:

Amuse

Image for the article titled What Makes a Meal Worthy of the Michelin Guide?

photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Something funny (which turned out to be roasted cabbage fries with aioli). Paired with a Champagne M. Brugnon Millesime Brut 2019.

The kale was surprisingly good, especially since it didn’t taste like kale and instead tasted like a potato chip. The champagne, however, that divine. And apparently you can buy it online for around $ 60 a bottle, which is cheaper than I expected.

First course

Image for the article titled What Makes a Meal Worthy of the Michelin Guide?

photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Indian Summer Corn Soup, Greek Cashew Yogurt and Breadcrumbs. Paired with a Philippe Foreau Domaine du Clos Nadin Vouvray Sec Loire Valley 2016.

This dish was actually my favorite of all.The soup tasted like corn chowder, but the yogurt added a spicy kick to counter it. its sweetness and bread crumbs tasted like rice krispies. Dry wine was also a nice contrast to the food; I liked it better after eating a bite than before I tasted something.

Second course

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photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Poached organic farm egg, vegetables from our garden, melted butter, lemon, aromatic herbs, sourdough bread. Paired with 2018 Le Artishasic La Terre Chardonnay Sonoma Coast.

You mixed this salad a bit together to make a Caesar-y dish. It was a salad. It was pretty good. The bread, however, was delicious and I had to refrain from asking for a take-out bag. The chardonnay, like most chardonnays, was good but not really my thing.

Third course

Image for the article titled What Makes a Meal Worthy of the Michelin Guide?

photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Nova Scotia lobster poached in butter, French fries, American sauce, grape vine. Paired with a 2018 Arnot-Roberts Vare Vinyard Ribolla Gialla Napa Valley.

Although this was the favorite course of almost everyone else at my table, I can’t say that lobster is my favorite. The dish was well prepared, and I could tell it was a good lobster compared to my only experience with lobster at the famous Red Lobster, but for some reason, these sea creatures don’t do it for me. I was pleased that the wine was extremely good.

Fourth Course

Image for the article titled What Makes a Meal Worthy of the Michelin Guide?

photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

“Homemade pasta”, reggiano, French butter, black truffle (aka: truffle risotto). Paired with a Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo Monfalletto 2017.

Not included in our description was the roast chicken reduction that was sprinkled on top of this risotto. It was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten because it had many layers of flavor, but I’ll be honest with you: I had no idea what the chopped truffles did for the dish. If they added some extra flavor, I wasn’t aware of it. The wine here was this gorgeous translucent ruby ​​red that tasted like grape juice. I was a fan.

Fifth Course

Image for the article titled What Makes a Meal Worthy of the Michelin Guide?

photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Grilled Treviso, callote de boeuf, red wine vinaigrette, vin rouge sauce. Paired with Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac-Léognan from 2010.

For some reason, I thought treviso was a fish, so imagine my surprise when I was instead handed a plate with a piece of beef and a small piece of lettuce. The beef was apparently Holstein, and it was extremely good, but most of it was cooked almost blue, which I can’t say I like it. The greenery was very bitter and cut the richness of the beef, but the real star of this meal was the wine, perhaps because at this point I had four more glasses of wine.

Sixth Course

Image for the article titled What Makes a Meal Worthy of the Michelin Guide?

photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Donut with sourdough, chocolate, Chantilly cream, orange marmalade. Paired with a 2005 Chateau Climens Premier Cru Barsac Grand Vin de Sauternes.

Sourdough donuts were very similar to sourdough bread to me; we only got one and I wanted more. They were extremely delicious and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and the three side sauces were great too. The wine here was definitely a dessert wine and could have been enjoyed all on its own; it was cloying, but it didn’t taste like cough syrup like some dessert wines do. I enjoyed it very much, but again, it may have been because I had drunk another five glasses of wine.

The verdict

Having eaten my first kind of meal with a Michelin star, I will say it lived up to the hype. Each dish was finely crafted, so even though I personally didn’t like it, I could appreciate the balance of flavors and the way it paired with the wine to create a complete dish worthy of its fame.

But it was also hard to imagine how food could get much better. Menes is the chef of a one-star restaurant – which is quite a difficult feat to achieve – but there are also more elaborate restaurants out there with better food? It is difficult to imagine. But it’s not as hard to imagine as the fact that a tire company is responsible for one of the most comprehensive food guides in the world.

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