Food writer and critic William Sitwell investigates the passions, pressures and obsessions behind that apparently all-important description, ‘Michelin-starred chef’. ‘It elevates your average stove monkey to superior cheffy status; it puts you in a completely new culinary class. But how relevant is Michelin? Do we want poncey food? Or can you get a Michelin star for a good steak and chips? Is the Michelin Guide harmful in its influence? And does the path to Michelin-starred perfection lead to dangerous obsession?’
In the lead-up to the 2010 Guide’s publication, Sitwell goes behind the scenes to hear contrasting views on the Michelin phenomenon, from Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White to chefs dreaming of stars and restaurateurs dismissive of them.
He rolls up his sleeves and immerses himself in this extraordinary world, spending a day in the kitchen with Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley hotel, who has two stars and is hoping for that mythical third. He learns just what is involved at this level, from the precise placing of a sliced fresh chestnut on a bed of Dorset crab, to the presentation of today’s pre-starter: fish and chip soup. In France, he encounters the big boss of Michelin at their Paris HQ and hears from the widow of the celebrated three-star chef, who was the ultimate perfectionist, a passionate chef who took his own life. And he explores who the strictly anonymous people are who make these apparently vital decisions. A senior British Michelin inspector, interviewed in shadow, confesses to enjoying the anonymity, likening himself to a secret agent, ‘licensed to eat’.