Despite the restaurant industry in California facing an existential threat from the effects of the coronavirus crisis, the Michelin Guide is planning to publish its 2020 guide to the state, based on restaurants’ pre-pandemic performances.
Last year the California guide offered broad recognition to the many excellent restaurants achieving culinary excellence up and down the state. Despite a raft of high-profile chefs handing back their stars and asking not to be included in future editions of the guide, the famed red book remains the gold standard for most serious chefs. The awarding of a Michelin star can secure a business’ future, two or three stars can secure a chef’s career, and even provide global recognition outside of culinary circles.
These are unique times, however, and the landscape upon which the restaurant industry operates is constantly shifting. So it is with some surprise that the Michelin Guide has announced that it is to proceed with publishing its 2020 guide to California based on inspectors’ pre-pandemic assessments.
“Restaurants in each category of the 2020 Michelin Guide California, including the Plate, Bib Gourmand and Star selections, were exclusively evaluated before the pandemic began,” said a spokesperson.
It is undeniable there is prestige attached to a Michelin star, but the decision seems a curious one, considering the usefulness of a restaurant guide that may include restaurants no longer in existence, or with a completely reconfigured menu, team or offering.
Michelin-starred restaurants that have closed due to the pandemic include Nico in San Francisco and Maum in Palo Alto. Temporarily closed restaurants include Octavia, Kin Khao, Coi, In Situ, Keiko à Nob Hill, Kinjo, Campton Place, Angler and Californios in San Francisco alone. Even three-star institutions like Atelier Crenn, French Laundry, the Restaurant at Meadowood, and SingleThread have had to completely overhaul their business model, inasmuch to be nearly unrecognisable to their 2019 iterations.
As Michelin announces that it is to proceed with its 2020 guide to New York, with inspectors already secretly attending struggling restaurants to asses them, the question begs answering: why?
Some critics feels the guide will be all but useless to customers. Neither can a 2020 guide to California be of much use to chefs, as it is unlikely to boost footfall to their restaurant during a pandemic.
The cataclysmic shock to the restaurant industry has affected the economy so deeply because it exists in an interconnected financial eco-system. For every closed restaurant, there are farmers whose produce withers on the vine, laundromats who depend on the business of washing tablecloths, as well as window cleaners and so forth. The Michelin Guide is another business that depends on the restaurant industry for its very survival. Just as restaurants are forced to ‘keep calm and carry on’, so too are the Michelin Guide inspectors who depend on restaurants to make their living.