Have the stars have begun to lose their lustre?


Is "something rotten in the state of Denmark"? With the recent news that Noma in Copenhagen is closing, is it perhaps a signal that all is not well in the realm of Michelin Star restaurants? Being awarded a Michelin star was once the ultimate culinary accolade, a reward for the punishing hours and dedication to detail that helped usher chefs into the upper echelons of their industry and bring big-spending diners into their restaurants.

It’s the famous tyre company´s road trip guide book that turned into a global phenomenon, with the winners of its stars gaining column inches nationally and waiting lists for some of the best restaurants stretching into months.
In its original conception, as a way to  encourage more road travel, and hence boost tyre sales, they decided to create a comprehensive guide book for motorists which catalogued hotels, restaurants, mechanics and petrol stations.
Nowadays it has become something of a sometimes controversial global phenomenon.
In 1900, the very first edition of the Michelin Guide was published and 35,000 copies were given out for free.
These multi-Michelin-starred destination restaurants were able to exist without criticism for so long in part because of a certain kind of fanfare doled out by food and lifestyle publications. But as media reports stacked up and staff felt emboldened to speak out on social media, the house of cards that sustained and drove the popularity of many elite restaurants for so long started to crumble. 
For some in the culinary world, those stars have begun to seem more of a burden than a blessing. In the past few years, several chefs have attempted to hand back their Michelin status, close the doors on their upscale establishments and begin a new foodie life away from the confines of haute cuisine. 

The stars have begun to lose their lustre. Are Michelin stars a thing of the past? Is twenty five courses excessive or verging on the ridiculous. Enough is enough some say. Is the obsession with black olive dust and a teaspoon of  olive ice cream beginning to return to ashes? Oyster tempura resting on black pebbles sitting in a puddle of something served with its own mother of pearl spoon, just as  being served jump in the mouth ants, not for me. Why sacrifice everything for aesthetics? ....and let ego overtake everything else.
Waiters marching to your table in unison arms folded behind their backs only makes one feel like part of military operation. A tactical exercise where each plate has depended so much on precision, hardly brings love to the table. Moldy egg tart and reindeer tartare and that is before one even gets to course 19, the meat droplet. But while on the subject of moldy old dough, one horrified customer took to twitter when she was served a tiny cheeseball described as Rancid Ricotta.
"I´m sorry did you say rancid?"

"You mean fermented, aged?"

"No, rancid"
Is "Old" Nordic going to become the nouveau quiche?
Opened in 2003 by Claus Meyer and René Redzepi, Noma and its culinary team pioneered a style of cooking that came to be known as "New Nordic", relying on local ingredients that often have to be painstakingly foraged and prepared.Its rejection of ingredients such as olive oil and lemons because they came from far away must be applauded. Redzepi and Noma were celebrated for their apparent commitment to sustainability, because they refused to fly in their ingredients.
These labour-intensive processes, and the punishing schedules needed to execute them, simply cannot
 coexist with fair, equitable, and humane work practices, Redzepi told The New York Times. “It’s unsustainable,” he said. “Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work.”€500 is not even enough to pay for the ludicrous amount of work that goes into the preparation of these meals. Too many have long survived on battalions of unpaid interns, or trainees, ( stagiaires as they call them in the trade), who are expected to be grateful for the opportunity to do menial tasks for free so they can list it on their CV. After the Financial Times wrote about Noma’s unpaid stagiaire system last year, they announced they would now be paid. Perhaps that’s simply added to the lack of financial sustainability. If Noma and other destination restaurants can’t figure out a business model that fairly compensates staff, they simply shouldn’t exist.There’s no doubting that dinner at Noma is a spectacular event. The price of a meal is 3,500 Danish kroner, or €500—without wine. A three-hour-long meal, comprised of 20 courses, could include a cod roe wafflegrilled koji cake wrapped in cucumber skin; and reindeer blood caramel. This was a restaurant in a class of its own—until it wasn’t. Since opening in 2003, Noma has led the way for a swathe of extremely expensive, painstakingly detail-oriented restaurants to open around the world. The kinds of places where perfection came above all else—including, it turned out in some instances, the well-being of staff. So since Redzepi´s announcement, behind the doors and on the other side of the walls of these upper echelons of fine dining rooms, what is happening? An avalanche of disbelief apparently. Stories have been pouring in about abuse of all forms: sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying, dangerous working conditions.All this has unearthed a can of worms ( pardon the euphemism ), and not just in Denmark.
Noma’s closure brings many of the restaurant industry’s long-standing flaws into sharp focus. The “angry chef” template is familiar to nearly anyone who’s worked in an industrial kitchen, and Redzepi himself has written about his unacceptable workplace behaviour.
In 1994, a 32-year-old Marco Pierre White became the youngest chef to achieve three stars at his eponymous restaurant. White, the archetypal rockstar chef, known as much for his temper and iconic portrait as for his prowess in the kitchen — was the youngest chef to ever achieve the coveted three-star status for his work at Restaurant Marco Pierre White. And then, about five years later, in 1999, he famously renounced them and retired from cooking at the eponymous restaurant that had made him the star.
By 1999, he'd renounced the stars, quitting the restaurant that had made him a culinary star.
Pierre White kickstarted a trend that's slowly gathered steam over the last couple of decades, with Michelin-based headlines becoming ubiquitous over the last few years.
If Michelin are going to, year on year, tell diners where the best restaurants in are, surely they need to now consider how the staff in each establishment are treated as part of their criteria.
The potential for chefs and restaurateurs to lose the prestige attached to the Michelin Guide and its stars system based on workplace culture could be just the tonic needed for an industry that’s been left at times battered and bruised.The Noma’s of the world are closing.It may be a good thing and it may well have been fun for a while being top of the league for 3 consecutive years but if restaurants can’t figure out a business model where they pay and treat their staff fairly—they simply shouldn’t exist
Hopefully when it all crumbles sensible affordable food will reign again, and egos will be taken down a peg or two, and Michelin can concentrate on marketing the worlds best quality tyres. Haute Couture never had a guide book does haute cuisine need one?
My feeling is there must be a better use for tweezers but for those of us who have worked in the restaurant industry, Noma’s announcement felt less like a seismic event and more like the dampened thud of a silver spoon falling on a plush dining-room carpet.


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