So we were invited to join Michelin's Jean-Luc Naret and his two publicists for lunch at Bistro 45 today in Pasadena. How could we resist? It's close by, we've never been to the restaurant, and we could personally ask some more questions about the LA guide and what he thinks of the criticisms. We didn't tape anything, we didn't take notes, and the conversation was lively and relaxed. But we did learn a few interesting things about the Michelin process.
(1) In the spring, Naret told us that Michelin inspectors go to a restaurant for at least one lunch and one dinner, but apparently that doesn't mean only one inspector goes to a restaurant twice. In order to get a Michelin star (or not), the initial inspector decides if it's worth a return visit, and then other inspectors will check it out. And then meetings are held and there's lots of debate. It really is a process, he says, and they don't take it lightly.
(2) For this reason alone, we'd like to see figures on how much money Michelin spends on dining a year. Let's make it easy on them: Just for Los Angeles, how much did those inspectors drop in the restaurant economy?
(3) The Leak. He brushed off the first leak because it wasn't set in stone, and it seemed to cause more anticipation than anything. The second leak? Well, let's just say that put a dent in his relaxing Normandy weekend.
(4) Consistency is the number one reason why a restaurant will not recieve stars. If a menu isn't consistent from beginning to end, through specials or standards, lunch or dinner, it will not receive a star. This, Naret says, would be the reason why something like A.O.C. didn't get a star. And to be fair, just because a restaurant doesn't get a star doesn't mean Naret won't eat there; he's not an inspector. Therefore, he will be at A.O.C. for dinner tonight.
(5) Speaking of Suzanne Goin, Naret swears there is no anti-female chef conspiracy. For one, he says, there just aren't as many women chefs in any country. But they have awarded stars to female chefs in other cities, including New York and San Francisco, not to mention France, Europe and Italy. We still think it's uncanny that not one woman chef starred here, but we digress.
(6) The reason why the copy isn't stellar is because for many years, there wasn't copy at all. The inspectors aren't writers, and someone was hired to make sense out of their notes and criticisms. This, we get.
(7) About this whole French "not getting" American restaurants business: He wants us to stop calling it a French company. Yes, Michelin headquarters are in Paris. Yes, he's French. But it's not a "French company." Funny. And even if it is based in France, the inpsectors are local. Naret was very adamant about these points.
(8) Also, stop critizing the stars if you've never been or haven't been to a restaurant in awhile. Hmmm. Maybe there's something to that one.
(9) If you want to see Naret take on the Los Angeles Times food editor Leslie Brenner---who had some strong opinions of the book---there's a panel at Barnes and Noble at the Grove tonight at 7pm. Bon Appetit's editor in chief Barbara Fairchild will be there, as well. This could be good.
(10) By the way, Bistro 45 is rightfully listed in the Los Angeles Michelin guide and rightfully not starred. It's been there for 17 years, and it has its place.