Perhaps no other industry accolade stirs up quite as much discussion and controversy as the almighty Michelin star.
For more than a century, Michelin has published guides to what are, allegedly, the top restaurants in the world. Restaurants and chefs can earn a maximum of three stars. Michelin started in France and published its first guide to North America in 2005. The guide is currently only published in four American cities: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. No Arizona restaurant has ever won a Michelin star.
One of the biggest criticisms of the guide? Michelin mostly focuses on high-end, expensive fine-dining restaurants that are slowly losing popularity among modern diners. But it doesn't stop there. Chefs have returned Michelin stars. And some have even taken their own lives when they or their restaurants have lost stars. But here's what Phoenix chefs have to say about the relevance of Michelin stars.
Do Michelin stars still matter? Why or why not?
I would say in today's age of Yelp and other online food media, [I] find Michelin stars to be less and less important to the restaurant and more important for the chef overall as a status symbol. I'm sure this is different in other parts of the world. In France, I'm sure it's still very highly regarded. I'm just not sure how much it is here in America.
Yes and no. It's nice to see awesome restaurants getting some recognition for their outstanding experiences they provide. However, if a place doesn’t have a star, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing things well.
To me, personally, no, I don't think Michelin stars matter. There are so many great chefs doing great things that won't get the recognition from Michelin simply because they aren't on the big stage.
Jared Porter, chef of The Clever Koi
We personally don't have the type of concept that would probably be recognized by the Michelin guide. However, I think that anybody that is truly in the restaurant business for the right reasons that says
Michelin stars don't matter is not thinking clearly. I can tell you if I were to ever get one star I'd be incredibly honored and pretty damn excited!
I think Michelin stars still matter, especially since it’s still so new in the U.S. It’s an exciting time to watch it grow across the country, and for chefs and restaurants to grow with it.
Tracy Dempsey, owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals
To some. When great chefs will shoot themselves for the loss of a star (I'm talking about you, [noted French chef] Bernard Loiseau), I think we need to re-evaluate their meaning. I am pretty sure I have never dined in a Michelin star restaurant.
Absolutely the stars matter! It’s very rare for chefs to see any appreciation for years of hard work and dedication. Michelin is the epitome and culmination of a chef's sacrifice and hard work toward
their craft. Although Michelin isn’t rating every city, I still believe many chefs strive to meet the expectations and consistency that Michelin demands.
I believe they matter to foodies; it gives them a “reference,” so to speak. However, I would like to see Michelin update their rating system. There are some amazing chefs and restaurants turning out incredible dishes in a casual atmosphere that are often overlooked.
Michelin stars will always matter. The Michelin guide to excellence will continue to set the standard in discovering the best of the best. The James Beard Foundation is another that recognizes the best of the best and will always be important in this industry.
Christopher Gross, chef of Christopher’s + Crush Lounge
Absolutely. They are like the opera, theater, or Formula 1. You know you’re getting the best of the best.
In Europe they still seem to be relevant. However, I believe here in the U.S. a stellar review from a local or national publication holds more weight with a customer. The average person is no longer reading the Michelin Guide; they are turning to OpenTable, Zagat, and their social media networks for restaurant recommendations.
Rachel Ellrich Miller, pastry chef and owner of Pistol Whipped Pastry
Yes, I think they matter. I think it’s a symbol of hard work and dedication. However, I also think, though, that our mindset of what constitutes a great meal has changed. The hole in the wall that makes great food can provide an experience as well, albeit different, as a three-star restaurant.
Lucia Schnitzer, co-owner of Luci’s Healthy Marketplace, Pomelo, Splurge Ice Cream and Candy Shop, and Luci’s at The Orchard
Food and cooking is an art, so yes, I do think Michelin stars matter and have meaning. Cooking is a way to express yourselves. We all do it every day, but some people just take it to that next level.
Judd Cummings, executive chef of Mill Avenue Management Group
I think that Michelin stars matter in the right environment. There are a million different types of chefs. Some want the recognition for their craft from peers and "experts"; others are in it for more humble reasons. Whatever the reason for entering this crazy and sometimes stressful industry, I think that it is good that chefs can strive for a Michelin star if that is where they want to set their personal bench mark.
Absolutely, they matter. I do believe the fine dining scene has dropped off quite a bit, but the ability to rate restaurants on a legitimate global scale is imperative. Without chefs striving to be their best, there is no innovation. It's the constant change and the passion that made this industry so insanely popular over the last 20 years. Michelin stars keep us in that light.
I think that they still matter. It is a measure of excellence in an industry where there really are too many choices for diners to make. It at least gives an indication about the quality of practices and products that are used by the restaurant. It is a notable distinction and gives chefs something to strive for. Our banquet chef, Sarah Turgel, recently returned from Singapore where she ate at a hawker stand that had a Michelin star. She waited in line for three hours for chicken at a hawker's stand, simply because it had a Michelin star. "Totally worth the wait."
Rich Hinojosa, chef of CRUjiente Tacos
I believe that Michelin stars still matter. I respect the list that Michelin puts out. I like it because it is a set of standards for each level, if you can meet them consistently, then you get the rating. If I go to a two-star or a three star-rated restaurant, I have an expectation of standards that should be met. I love one- and two-star Michelin restaurants, they always seem to be pushing really hard.
Jim Gallen, chef of Tom’s Tavern
I believe the stories that create the Michelin star restaurants are fascinating; however, they are really not relevant to the everyday diner. Most of us simply can’t afford to eat that food. The talent involved in creating that food is not approachable or abundant to a wide-ranging consumer, so relevance is not the challenge, it is attainability, and Michelin star restaurants are not attainable.
Not so much in the Valley. A star is a great honor, but Michelin doesn't even come out here to rate anyone. The food scene in the Valley is getting better all the time, so maybe soon some of the places out here will get the recognition they deserve.
Brian Archibald, executive chef of The Boulders Resort & Spa
Of course they do. They are a scale to measure excellence in the entire dining experience for the guest.
To me, not really. Most restaurants don't attain that level of recognition. I love food that is not fussy, food that is soul-warming and comforting. I value the accolades as a benchmark of success in a cutthroat industry, but success is not always measured in stars.
They definitely serve a great purpose and are still one of the highest honors a chef can receive, but its net is only cast so far, only covering a few cities in America. There are so many talented chefs with unbelievable restaurants all over the United States, so I rely more on James Beard Awards and Food & Wine Top 10 every year to paint a more accurate picture of our craft.