“MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN”— Winning and Keeping the Star

“Michelin Stars: Tales From The Kitchen”

Winning and Keeping the Star

Amos Lassen

If you have ever wondered how chefs get and keep a Michelin Star or what the criteria are for earning one, this is the film you need to see. In this globe-trotting documentary, we meet the world’s leading chefs as they share the impact of the little red book as well as Jean-Dominique Senard, the president of the Michelin Guide whose team of anonymous food critics have the power to make and to break the celebrities of the food world. Can you answer these questions: What defines great cooking? The cleanliness of a plate scraped clean? The price of a plate? The ratio of second helpings to one? A healthy burp?

Director Rasmus Dinesen explores these and others in “Michelin Stars: Tales from the Kitchen”, a film that film features top chefs from around the world who dish on the pros and cons of the controversial rating system. The Michelin Stars are an odd scheme, as is any arbitrary classification model for assigning stars and ratings in the arts, and they have enormous influence. The system awards one to three stars for excellence in culinary delights. People travel the globe to eat at top tier Michelin restaurants. Only 113 kitchens worldwide have the coveted three star distinction, but there are surely more great satisfying eateries than that number. The definition of greatness is based on taste.

The cooks here offer a consensus that good cuisine has several consistencies from kitchen to kitchen. Fresh ingredients, proper cooking times, and a hint of character that adds the chef’s personality are all essential in the recipe for greatness. Beyond those vague unifiers, however, good cooking is something else. One chef says that we cannot compare one can’t the buttery cuisine of a Parisian bistro to the noodles of a small soba bar in Tokyo. A single star system can’t account for region, culture, and the rich history in which beloved dishes steep with memories and traditions. 

The chefs who have attained Michelin Star status agree on quality. René Redzepi, for example, the master chef behind the Danish restaurant Noma shares that the  “World’s Best Restaurants” deemed Noma the best restaurant in the world four times between 2010 and 2014, yet Michelin only grant him two stars. The chefs explain the painstaking detail of revising menus, whipping up culinary identities, and exploring new ways of blending tradition with contemporary flavors. Baking is a science and cooking is an art, and there are simply too many variables that make for good eating.

These stars are also the source of nervous breakdowns and cause toxic work cultures. A troubling sequence on the drive for perfection notes the pervasive abuse one encounters in kitchens. These stories are popping up in the wake of the #MeToo conversations and “Michelin Stars” adds more tales to the kitchen. Toxic masculinity goes beyond the casting couch and there are costs to the haute cuisine that satisfies the world. Very few of the interviewees are women and Dinesen finds conflicting values within the discussions. The chefs often talk about food bringing people together or reminding them of their heritage, only to note that receiving a Michelin’s Star was the proudest moment of their lives—”until they remember the births of their kids, or their wedding days, and correct their statements.” 

However, the perverse star system works. The documentary shows how Michelin Stars are a chef’s honor but finds the arbitrary merits of their origin and assessment part of their appeal. These stars, after all, are a marketing tool and the film notes reminds us that Michelin is a tire company that devised the system to encourage destination dining. Citing a restaurant as worthy of a trip inspires people to drive more and, in turn, buy more tires. If this business of assigning value to the arts is all a marketing ploy, it cheapens the appeal. “Michelin is better suited for McDonald’s and drive-thru “cooking.””

The doc  defines the chefs by their philosophies and recipes that Michelin aims to spotlight. We get an international cornucopia of dishes and perspectives to illustrate the broad range of culinary practices both included and omitted by the rating. Every chef and every diner has his or her own delight. Warm cinematography highlights the drive for perfections that goes into each dish the chefs prepare.

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