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Rating Systems in the Culinary World

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Those who have an interest in the entertainment world are probably aware that Emmys, Academy Awards, Tonys, and Grammys are given out to groups and individuals who strive in television, film, theater, and music, respectively.  Each year, a new football team is crowned as champion during the Super Bowl while individuals are showcased through awards such as the NFL's MVP award.  But what happens in the culinary world?  How are restaurants and chefs who go the extra step given the credit they deserve?

Image from michelinmedia.com

As far as restaurants go, there are a handful of online rating sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, or Chowhound, along with several key newspapers such as The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune.  Although these can all have a powerful role in making or breaking restaurants, there is one source that ranks above all when it comes to international credibility:  the Michelin Red Guide.  Dating back to 1926, the French guide is produced by various undercover inspectors who use their culinary expertise to rate restaurants and hotels.  Stars are given out solely based on the food, while forks and spoons are given out for the overall comfort and quality of the establishment.  According to their site, stars indicate the following:

* "One star indicates a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard.  A good place to stop on your journey."

** "Two stars denote excellent cuisine, skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality.  Worth a detour."

***  "Three stars reward exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly.  Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients.  Worth a special journey."

To give you an idea of how big of a deal it is to be granted a star (let alone three), there are currently only eleven 3-star restaurants in the entire United States (most being in NYC), seven 3-star restaurants in Italy, and five 3-star restaurants in China.  Once a restaurant obtains a rating, its actions down the line dictate whether it will be able to keep it the following year, gain a star, or even lose a star.  To see the level of dedication chefs need to be Michelin-worthy, I highly recommend watching A Matter of Taste:  Serving Up Paul Liebrandt.


Image from eatocracy.cnn.com
And that brings us to the relatively new concept of awarding individual chefs (Oscar style) for their accomplishments.  Although limited to North America, the James Beard Foundation Awards is recognized as the primary source for finding out 'who's who' in the culinary world.  Only dating back to 1990, the JBF Awards "recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and continue to emphasize the Foundation's mission to celebrate, preserve, and nurture America's culinary heritage and diversity."  The neat thing about Beard Awards is that they recognize all types of professionals within the business, including chefs,  wine connoisseurs, journalists, cookbook authors, designers, among others.

Although my foodie-friendly hometown of Madison may not be home to any Michelin Star restaurants (yet), I'm proud to announce that we have a recent JBF Award recipient right on the Square.  Recently highlighted on Wisconsin Foodie, Chef Tory Miller of Madison's L'Etoile is interviewed as he makes his appearance at the award ceremony.  As corny as it may sound, to a foodie like myself, seeing Chef Tory Miller doing his weekly shopping at the Dane County Farmers Market for my first time was like seeing an Oscar award winning actor walking down the streets of Los Angeles.  To give you an idea of the celebrity status that typically comes with winning one of these awards, other recipients you may recognize include Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, and Emeril Lagasse.

[Have any of you eaten at a Michelin Star restaurant?  Or eaten food prepared by a James Beard Foundation Award Recipient?  Where was it, and did it meet your expectations?]

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