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India has no Michelin Guide hence no Michelin starred restaurants

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have explained the situation but nearly every time  I address a foodie audience, there is one question that I  get asked.

“Why doesn’t any Indian restaurant have a Michelin star? Are our restaurants not good enough?”

 

It is a valid question --- but only if you don’t know what the Michelin Guide is.

 

   The Guide was started by the French tyre giant as a way of offering motorists places to stop and eat at. When it began, it listed the best restaurants on every route (and therefore every town and village) in France. Some of these restaurants were given stars.

 

   One star meant that the food was very good. Two stars meant that the food was worth a detour. And three stars meant that the food was excellent, worth making a special trip for. Originally, there was no text to accompany the stars, just some recommended dishes.

 

   Soon every motorist had a copy of the Guide and eventually, in an era long before food criticism was a big deal, the stars came to be regarded as a mark of quality. Chefs lusted after them and though the stars are given to the restaurant not the chef, the term “Michelin-starred chef” came into common usage. Michelin did nothing to discourage the practice.

 

   As the French Guide’s popularity spread, Michelin launched Guides in other European countries. In the 1970s, it came to England and later, it launched in New York and then, in other American cities. Around a decade and a half ago, it came to Asia: Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, etc.

 

   There have been other changes since then. As more food guides began to be published, Michelin turned the Guides into proper foodie handbooks adding descriptions of each restaurant and appealing more to the general public. Now, the publication of each Guide is such a big deal that it leads to stories in the local press about the restaurants that have won stars and those that have lost them.

 

   But here’s the thing: to win a Michelin star, you have to feature in the Guide. And as there are Guides only in certain parts of the world, you can’t get a star unless your city or country has a Guide.

 

   Michelin is expanding its reach but till recently there was no Guide to Los Angeles. Michelin had arrived in the city in 2007. But had withdrawn two years later because of poor sales. It did not go back for ten years. Australia still does not have a Michelin Guide and so, has no Michelin star restaurants.

 

   And India also has no Michelin Guide.

 

   That’s why it has no Michelin starred restaurants.

 

   So, a Michelin star is not like a Nobel Prize, awarded every year to the best in the world. It is a mark of recognition in a guidebook to a particular city or a country. If your country does not have a Guide, you cannot, by definition, have a Michelin starred restaurant.

 

"In recent years, though chefs continue to regard Michelin stars as the gold standard, the rules of the game have changed."

   That is why India has no Michelin starred restaurants.

 

   Not because our restaurants are not good enough.

 

   Over the years, Michelin has come under severe attack and there have been many controversies over its selections. In France, in the 1970s and 1980s, the criticism led to the rise of Gault-Millau and other guides.

 

   In New York, the Michelin Guide counts for nothing. A New York Times review can make or break a restaurant but Michelin has zero impact. Alain Ducasse, the French chef before whom the Michelin inspectors are required to  genuflect, has had to close two restaurants in New York (one of which had three stars) despite the Guide’s praise. And Gordon Ramsay who got two stars in New York was run out of the city by The New York Times.

 

   Per Se which has had three Michelin stars in New York for 15 years was devastated when the New York Times demoted it from four (The Times’ highest rating, denoting excellence) star to two (meant for ordinary neighbourhood restaurants).The Michelin stars remained but counted for nothing as far as New Yorkers were concerned.

 

   In recent years, though chefs continue to regard Michelin stars as the gold standard, the rules of the game have changed. One reason is the influence of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (and its regional counterparts), a list purportedly based on the votes of foodies from all over the world.

 

   At a time when food is big, there are dedicated foodies who fly around the world just to eat at the restaurants on the list. The World’s 50 Best is quicker to spot trends (foraging, scientific techniques, etc.) than Michelin and is trendier.

 

   India (or Indians) have sometimes featured on that list. In the current rating, Gaggan is the fourth best restaurant in the world and it topped the Asian list for four years.

 

   Indian restaurants (in India) do less well. For years the Mumbai Wasabi was on the list (even during the time it was closed because of the terror attacks!) – a slightly incredible inclusion that rated it higher than top Japanese restaurants in Japan. Indian Accent nearly always makes it to either the global or the Asia list. But all the other good Indian restaurants are ignored.

 

   It is widely believed that after a storm of protest last year over the continuous neglect of Indian restaurants, the Asia 50 list will include more Indian places this year. Likely candidates are the legendary Bukhara, the excellent Bombay Canteen and the publicity-conscious Masque, the Mumbai restaurant that has the highest global PR spend of any restaurant in India.

 

   These will be welcome additions. And given that Michelin (despite rumours of its imminent arrival), has announced no plans to come to India, some global recognition is only fair. (Though cynics say that once the Michelin tyre brand is established, the Guides usually follow!)

 

  Either way, it would be good to recognise such restaurants as Karavalli, Dum Pukht and so many others which are easily the equal of other Asian restaurants on the 50 Best list.

 

   For Indians, the one note of regret will be that Gaggan Anand is out of the ratings this year because the award-winning Gaggan has closed and the chef has shifted to Gaggan Anand, his own restaurant. It normally takes a while for Michelin, 50 Best etc. to rate a new restaurant.

 

   Though I am not sure it will make much difference to Gaggan whose original restaurant was full long before he got his two Michelin stars (the highest in the Thailand Guide) and continued to be full after the stars were awarded. In that sense, he is rating-proof, a brand by himself.

 


 

CommentsComments

  • Rao 29 Feb 2020

    Vir, I think you should start a "Food Guide" in India. Don't wait for Michelin. They are over rated. Your Food Guide should include Up Market, Down Market, Street Food, Dhaba food & commercial home cooked food. A Michelin food guide places a fork on the ground near their table to see if the service picks it up. Oh come on, such French dog poop.

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