clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Eater Exclusive Interview: Jean-Luc Naret Talks Michelin's Sophomore Year in Los Angeles

Well, folks, it's that time of year again: The Michelin Los Angeles guide debuts on Monday. Last year even with all the fan fare---most chefs, after all, still find honor for being in the guide---local media like LAT's Leslie Brenner, Bon Appetit's Barbara Fairchild and Jonathan Gold shredded the guide for recognizing some restaurants and not others, glaring omissions, typos, sexim and overall mistakes. But that happened in every U.S. city when it first debuted, and it didn't stop them before: Michelin is back for its sophomore year.

The way it's supposed to go down: The chefs find out Monday morning, a luncheon will be held at Gordon Ramsay at the London where director of Michelin Guides Worldwide Jean-Luc Naret gives a speech, and then the release is sent over the wires for all to hear. (Of course...spoilers will be spoliers, leaks will be leaks.) But before the big unveiling, we had a chance to speak with Naret to find out how he dealt with LA Times take-down, what's new this year, and if we finally have a shot at three stars in this town. The full interview, next.

The critics were harsh with the first edition. Jonathan Gold said: “The guide was so evidently put together as a fly-by-night project showing neither knowledge of nor much respect for Los Angeles.” Leslie Brenner had many issues (mistakes, omissions, etc.) and said: "The writing makes the Zagat guide look like Ulysses." How did you take this criticism initially?
The first edition was the first for Los Angeles, and we were not at all surprised that we would be trashed by the local media. Every time we entered a new city, like the first year in New York, obviously we’re giving a different point of view of the scene there. The local papers do this when the Michelin guides arrive. We take away the supremacy of the local media. We’re the newcomer in town, but it’s not the first time we’re writing about restaurants. We’ve been doing this for 100 years.

Restaurants like A.O.C, Lucques, Grace, La Cachette, Hatfield's, Jar, and Campanile didn’t get stars. These are consistently the top restaurants in our city. Will they be starred this year?
People believe something should have one star, and we don’t believe. It’s the Michelin guide, it’s not the Official Star of LA. If we think it deserves a star, we give it. That’s the difference between the Los Angeles Times and the Michelin guide. When I see that Leslie Brenner is welcomed at some restaurant, her experience is different than our inspectors. That’s the way we get our credibility. For over 100 years now, it’s our professional point of view. We don’t just call them stars, they’re called Michelin stars.

So many of these are helmed by female chefs. A lot of people wondered if the guide is sexist.
We don’t have a problem with female chefs because they’re female, but because they deserve the stars. We’re not looking at the name of the restaurant; we’re just looking at what’s on the plate. It’s a question of the talent of the chef.

What about the mistakes people found, omissions, etc.?
We already know four restaurants have closed after this edition went to print. Things change overnight in the restaurant business. We try not to do a restaurant that opened too soon. We try to go as many times as we can to get a good opinion.

How many books did you sell last year?
All together we sold about 150,000 in the U.S. (ed. note: New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles)

So what’s different this year?
As we prepared the second edition with newer inspectors, we had some new entries, a very good selection of new restaurants. We cover some new areas. We introduced Bib Gourmand, which we’ll talk about on Monday. It’s a new category. These are restaurants with very good value for the money. To be awarded a Big Gourmand means that the food is very good. It’s very popular in New York and Europe.

So does that mean you went deeper into the San Gabriel Valley and other areas?
Yes, you will find that out on Monday.

Have you dined somewhere in LA that wasn’t in the guide that you thought, “This should be in the guide.”
That happens to me in every city. I’ve only been here a few times, so not so much in LA. But I receive different treatment than any of the inspectors. Sometimes the inspectors themselves don’t agree. We could have an inspector think it should be in the guide, and another will go and think it shouldn't.

Are any of the inspectors from Los Angeles?
We have 10 inspectors in the U.S. Five are in NY, five are on the West Coast. There are three in LA who do Los Angeles and Las Vegas at the same time. They are all American.

Does LA get a three star restaurant this year?
That’s a Monday question. Everyone said that Michelin couldn’t find a three star here. You’ll find out on Monday.

A look back at last year...
· Breaking: Michelin Stars Are Out [~ELA~]
· Hangover Observations: Michelin LA Launch Party [~ELA~]
· Eater and Michelin Do Lunch [~ELA~]
· LA Food Editors vs Michelin: The Take Down [~ELA~]
· Gold to Michelin: It is Merely Irrelevant [~ELA~]
· LAT Still Talking Michelin..Still [~ELA~]