The Michelin Guide has long been my bible. As a kid my parents used it to pick every hotel, every restaurant when we traveled. We would stay several days in various towns throughout Europe Always on half board (breakfast & dinner); sampling as many of the specialties as we could. More often than not we ended up friends with the chef. I could read the symbols of the Guide before I learned long division.
The Guide Rouge was founded in 1900 to encourage people to drive. Michelin is first and foremost a tire company. It was a gift with purchase. A helper for where to go and what to do with your new car…maps, hotels, gas stations, mechanics….and yes, restaurants. Countries were added in part based on tire sales. France was first, Belgium second, Algeria & Tunisia third.
While other kids knew the members of bands, I knew the name of every 3-star chef in France. The star system started in 1931, before that it was just a single star to highlight special eateries. Symbols made it fast and easy to read no matter what language, summaries were in the local language (though the Spain/Portugal edition was all Spanish).
When I travelled on my own, I relied on Michelin for inexpensive yet tasty places to spend my hard-earned dollars. A one knife & fork, one star was the holy grail. Later, I tortured my own kids, dragging them all over in search of the perfect meal. Hunter once cried, “Can we just have a regular lunch like everybody else?” In fairness, he was 7 and we’d been driving for hours through the Loire Valley to get to one of my hidden gems.
Michelin is new to Canada. Toronto’s restaurants were announced 6 weeks ago. Vancouver’s come out October 27. North America is not typical Michelin territory. Restaurants turn over to quickly. Haute Cuisine is a relatively new thing, at least at scale. The guide has focused on cities rather than countries. New York City was the first in 2005.
Many years ago, I met the then director Michael Ellis (like any groupie, I asked him to sign my book). I confessed, being an inspector was my dream job. Not as glamourous as you think…he pointed out. Inspectors remain anonymous. And for every 3 star you might get to experience , there are literally hundreds of never going to qualify restaurants you will need to try. And write reports on. I decided against this particular career path. BUT….I still like to think I am a great judge of which restaurants will get, keep or loose stars.
Which brings me to the Toronto list. There are some interesting choices. 11 received one star; only one received 2. I have eaten at most. Alo remains my favorite restaurant in Canada for what John calls tweezer food…you know, tiny leaves carefully placed. Lots of places do it, few do it extraordinarily well. I was shocked they didn’t get two stars. I hadn’t been since pre Covid. Maybe things had changed? Last week I was able to see for myself. If anything, Alo has gotten better. The food was precise. Dishes were creative, fascinating combinations of flavors. Delicious. And yes, there were bits that could have only been put on the plate with tweezers. The service was outstanding, a well oiled yet friendly machine. The wine interesting and fairly priced. It was a perfect meal.
I can’t help wondering if Michelin made a mistake. Or have I lost my touch? One foody friend suggested Michelin did not know chef Patrick Kris that well. They need to see how he performs over a few years. If he keeps cooking like he did last week and doesn’t get a second star, I may have to find a new bible I’ll keep you posted.