Sunday, October 17, 2010

Michelin is Unimportant

Josh Ozersky has written a Time article expressing similar views as myself on the Michelin Guide. His specific criticism of the guide isn't the act of reviewing itself, but the perplexing way that the guide writes reviews.

Roger Ebert said it best, a critic is not someone who determines what is "good" and "bad," terms too nebulous to use effectively; no, a critic is someone who says whether they liked something or not and effectively explains why they liked it or not. The explanation is the skill of the critic, not their status as an arbiter of taste. It's in this important task that Michelin fails.

I argue that Michelin fails because it's stupid and useless for all but the most self-important in the internet age. Just as Gayot, or San Pellegrino's 100 Best Restaurants (an intellectual task on par with arranging angels on the head of a pin), the final result will undoubtedly bring increased attention and money to the top eateries, but the effects on food at large will be small if not completely hypothetical. And if food isn't changed on at least a regional level, how can we say that some restaurant has been great as opposed to merely a good place to get some food?

My greatest criticism is that these reviews largely ignore food-at-large. All of the major review sites are utterly obsessed with French food, and only recently have they become enamored with molecular gastronomy. I'm nearly positive it's because MG allows those who advocate for it to feel even more self important. Want evidence of this? Many of the products of molecular gastronomy aren't actually terribly hard or expensive to make. If anyone tried to open a discount MG restaurant, it would go under in a month. The price is part of the reason for going.

I like to review restaurants and I think the job of the critic is actually an important one. It prevents people from going someplace and wasting money; it helps restaurants that are worthwhile succeed in an increasingly-crowded market; and, almost eugenically, it helps moves the bad restaurants out of the market, thus freeing space for new ones to try their hand. Michelin doesn't do any of these things. With terse, useless review snippets, stars given to already famous, hilariously expensive restaurants, limited coverage, and a positively myopic view of global cuisine, we're left to ask, what does the guide do?

Very little, I argue. Except let you feel even more self-important when you eat at Le Bernardin.

Restaurant Ratings: Is Michelin Lost in the Stars?

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