Oh Michelin. Your long and drawn-out awards season is almost over. And yet you’ve given reason to remain in the news just that bit longer. Why, just why, don’t you get yourselves a social media strategy? And also — just spitballing, here — a staff that has a grasp on literally any of the pertinent issues in the industry you claim to call your own?
The Internet is an unforgiving place. Furthermore, Twitter — a fast-paced, kaleidoscopic platform — is not known for its ability to let something slide, least of all in a cultural climate finally applying appropriate scrutiny to issues of gender and injustice.
Public evisceration of yet another #epicfail from the Michelin account is one of Twitter’s more dependable pleasures — this, though, is arguably the first time they have strayed from almost lovable idiocy into more serious and more controversial territory.
This morning, the Michelin UK Twitter account tweeted a picture of some dishes at Asma Khan’s Indian restaurant, Darjeeling Express, one of the summer’s most notable new openings — notable due not only to the chef’s cult following but also to her reputation for promoting and encouraging a female workforce in her kitchen. Indeed, as has often been remarked, her kitchen staff is all-female. Michelin’s tweet riffed off this fact but clumsily emphasised exactly the wrong things in relation to it. Instead of, say, highlighting to their 71,800 followers how it would be a good thing were an all-female staff more commonplace in the industry in 2017, they inadvertently committed themselves to the ugly tropes of gender stereotyping.
Although some will proclaim the ensuing outrage a storm in a social media teacup, it points to more fundamental problems — not just with the Michelin Guide (just one index, after all) and its record on gender equality, but also the historical and present failings of the industry more widely, and the structural, institutionalised misogyny within it.
Michelin’s foray into the digital world is comparatively recent and their misuse of Twitter is well-documented. Indeed in Eater London’s recent analysis, the conclusion was succinct: “Michelin, it’s time to delete your account.” In light of this morning’s antics, that remains the recommendation.
Here is today’s disaster in four acts:
1. “A female kitchen team coping effortlessly with the demand @Darjeelingldn #Soho” is another way of saying that this display of competence surprised the Michelin inspector. So women can cope. Right. The implication being that it was somehow notable for an all-female team to be managing with the same professionalism as a male one, as though it was some sort of minor miracle that Asma Khan’s employees weren’t instantly overcome by mass hysteria. One has to assume that this would not have been the line taken had they identified an all-male staff behind the pass — because this doubtless happens regularly, without Michelin feeling the need to comment.
2. Following an immediate and angry backlash, which included this from Evening Standard Magazine restaurant critic Grace Dent, Michelin deleted the original tweet. They then issued a clarification. Except, the clarification didn’t really say anything different to the original tweet.
“Let us clarify!” they exclaim (about a tweet that no longer exists.) “It’s rare to see a completely female kitchen team – and one so utterly calm under so much pressure as the place was packed - this is a restaurant with an interesting story @Darjeelingldn #Soho.” Again the chosen emphasis was on the noteworthiness of an all-female team coping.
Let us clarify!— The MICHELIN Guide (@MichelinGuideUK) November 23, 2017
It’s rare to see a completely female kitchen team – and one so utterly calm under so much pressure as the place was packed - this is a restaurant with an interesting story @Darjeelingldn #Soho pic.twitter.com/4SYWv5NWpr
3. By this stage one can assume the issue had made its way up the corporate communications chain of command. But the recommendation for a rapid PR face-save appears to have been along the lines of ‘find something on the Internet that celebrates women in restaurants.’ What other explanation can be given to retweeting an eight-day-old tweet from Just Opened London that links to a list of “the women shaping London’s food scene”?
4. Michelin’s account then retweeted and liked this quote retweet by Darjeeling Express’ account, in which a minority voice in defence of Michelin had stated “Restaurant kitchens, esp male-dominated ones, are famous for NOT being calm. Calm is good. I don't understand why this has blown up like this.” One of the unwritten codes of Twitter conduct is that retweeting praise can appear needy. Why, it’s as if Michelin weren’t coping.
They then appeared to hand the account keys to the Czech Republic, reverting to timid observations of a ‘tiramisu sphere’ and a (partial) view of the Vltava, in Prague, before “landing in Plymouth” and offering their exhausted followers the tamest of puns.
All in a day’s work for an account which, at the time of writing, is still active. And still actively abject.
Michelin stargazer George Reynolds contributed to this article.