The Taste of Comparison

Comparisons are said to be odious. However, without them, competitors have no benchmark against which to calibrate themselves. That is why even the two restaurant guides, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Michelin Guide, which compare and contrast the world’s gastronomic aristocracy, must also themselves be subject to critique.

 

Tired re-tread ?

 

The original purpose of the Michelin Guide, launched in 1900, was, not to pitch restaurants into culinary conflict, but to sell automobile tires by getting drivers to travel to recommended eating establishments. Still owned by the company that still relies ironically on the rotund “Michelin Man’s” spare tires to promote epicurean indulgence. It remains, however, the “gastronomic bible” for many. The stars to which chefs aspire are awarded by qualified inspectors who rate restaurants incognito. The guide’s influence waned with the appearance of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and the rise of social media. But in relaunching it Michelin chose to accept payments from countries seeking to promote their restaurants, thus compromising the independence for which it was respected.

"I think it’s time for others to be in The 50 Best, especially from the younger generation."  Massimo Bottura, Chef, Osteria Francescana

 

Kitchen democracy

 

In contrast to the apparent anonymous freemasonry of the Michelin inspectorate, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants seems to be an almost democratic institution. Like a trial by jury, restaurants are judged by their peers: rankings are decided on the opinions of more than a thousand well-known chefs, food critics and gourmands. The 50 Best has also sought to widen the pool of establishments it rates by excluding past winners in order to allow new and diverse entrants to be considered. Chef Massimo Bottura, whose Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana took the top slot twice – agrees:  “I think it’s time for others to be there, especially from the younger generation.” But some criticize The 50 Best for excluding past winners and skewing results to “new” and “hot” candidates.

 

Cost of competition

 

It is the nature of competition on which the Michelin Guide and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants seek to thrive, by pitting restauranteurs against each other, that they should themselves become subjects of scrutiny. While Michelin was said to be too parochially French and The 50 Best has been criticized for the lack of regional and gender diversity. The anonymity of the Michelin inspectors has the advantage that they cannot be bullied, bribed or lobbied. However, Michelin were criticized by one of its own inspectors who claimed his lonely, ill-paid job led to declining standards. The 50 Best meanwhile has been plagued by questions about how subject its verdicts are to lobbying and subsidizing those passing judgement.

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