Michelin has given out its London and U.K. stars for 2021. With it, new stars, surprise omissions, and sensational deletions. It all took place at an unidentified TV studio in London, hosted by ... Davina McCall ... and Michelin director Gwendal Poullennec.
Here’s what happened at #TyreFestival2021.
Most nostalgic opening
Davina McCall stepping out of a car with a mask, whipping it off in front of some poor soul dressed up as rubber restaurant overlord Bibendum. The stage was set for Big Brother! “Bibendum, this is Davina. You are live on YouTube; please do not swear.” Sadly, no-one at Michelin got the memo, and she just walked inside with Bibendum standing awkwardly in the background, like a formerly big-deal cause celebre that no-one really cares about this year.
Earliest presentation of fundamental conflict that has the potential to undermine the entire purpose of Michelin
After some opening gambits from McCall and Poullennec that paid general lip service to “supporting the industry,” she introduced James Sommerin, a Penarth chef whose restaurant held a Michelin star and started cooking meals and delivering produce for the NHS. A voiceover compilation video speaking to their “ability to be the heart of their community” followed, emphasising the incredible changes that restaurants have had to make, often at the shortest notice, in order to survive the last twelve months. Michelin! It knows what’s happening, folks!
But to follow these plaudits with the award of stars that remain wedded to a tyre company’s interpretation of which cuisines are worth journeys and detours speaks to the impossible position Michelin finds itself in. This prestigious guide does not have its roots in supporting restaurants and their survival, and it never has; this prestigious guide does not have roots in giving back to communities and dealing with global crisis, and it never has. This was always going to overhang the Michelin star revelation, but to put it on full display so early was perhaps not quite what Bibendum intended.
Sommerin’s restaurant? It’s no longer in the guide at all. It closed permanently after its landlord shut down its building in the summer.
Most scripted platitude
Gwendal Poullennec, on restaurant pivoting: “They have all touched me.”
Most impressive geographical transition
Poullennec making it from the banks of the Seine to the night sky, full of stars, they’re stars, Michelin awards stars, do you get it?
Most perplexing geographical transition
In a constellation compilation of the chefs behind the U.K.’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, Gordon Ramsay was standing in what looked like a monastery/ornate Mediterranean villa/less threatening Game of Thrones set while the others hung out, like, inside.
Most continually questionable choice of streaming platform
Putting it politely, the Michelin REVELATION does not have a reputation as a silky-smooth piece of event management. So hosting it this year on YouTube, Facebook Live, and third option Live-Now.com may not have been the savvy piece of tripartite customer #engagement it might originally have seemed. The same comment problems plagued it on YouTube: Sam M said “davina and gordon deffo banged”; Kevin Martinetti pleaded to “Give Doritos a chance”; Suka la Minchia put their finger on the pulse: “who knows how many restaurants that will get the star are still open?” At the venue, Davina McCall whispered “camera one or two” on a couple of occasions. Michelin had intended for the general public to sit and applaud its taste in restaurants this year, so maybe next year that will be allowed, and it can just tweet it out.
Most ironic sustainability initiative
Most excruciating pivot to digital
Michelin goes by the epithet of “The Red Guide,” most famously in the form of a book. But this year, it’s a Michelin App. Announcing something so digitally prosaic as a new 2021 feature was bad enough; getting a French man to say the word “app” repeatedly in front of a baying YouTube comment section was just unnecessarily cruel. The app looks pretty good, though.
Most impressive acting
In the absence of the one part of the ceremony that always feels genuine, when chefs react live to some of them most significant news of their lives, Michelin tried to replicate it with a mixture of pre-recorded surprise and genuine live interviews with chefs. Whether those who were pre-recorded had to respond to a prompt (“YOU HAVE A STAR! OH MY GOD! SPEAK NOW!”) or just turn it on from cold, they did a reasonable job.
Most impressive response
Honourable mentions to Andrew Wong’s family mobbing him with joy and to the chefs overcome with emotion, but nothing comes close to Hélène Darroze receiving a third Michelin star and saying, before anything else, “putain.”
Most impressive being impressive
Clare Smyth became the first female chef to steward two different three Michelin-starred restaurants. She’s also one of a smattering of chefs ever to steward two different Michelin-starred restaurants that are totally separate entities (as opposed, say, to Pierre Gagnaire’s duo of Sketch and his eponymous restaurant in Paris, or Alain Ducasse’s trio of three-Michelin-starred restaurants in London, Paris, and Monte Carlo.)
Most geographically revealing statistic
All of the new two-Michelin-starred and three-Michelin-starred restaurants were in London, with 7/17 of the new one stars in the capital. While it’s always held a sway over the general U.K. picture, the singular focus on the city at the upper echelons suggests one of the limitations of producing a guide in a pandemic. If the travel that it necessitates just isn’t as possible, then... Do (nearly) all the U.K.’s Michelin inspectors live in London? Specifically, split across Mayfair and Hackney?
Most shiny example of “don’t hate the player, hate the game”
AKA The Curious Case of Behind. Andy Beynon’s seafood-leaning tasting menu restaurant in London Fields was open for 20 (twenty) days over summer, and was awarded a Michelin star, probably putting itself in the running for the fastest on record.
Michelin is a famous stickler for consistency in awarding its stars, with inspectors making multiple visits to corroborate their views. It is extremely, extremely unusual, to put it mildly, to award a star that quickly, and even more unusual to do so with multiple inspections in such a short time period.
But none of this is Beynon nor his team’s problem or fault. As it was foretold, giving out Michelin stars in a pandemic was always going to undermine the guide’s commitment to selectivity, and leave it with a few rods for its vulcanised back next year. But to undermine its own criteria quite so spectacularly was a move very few saw coming.