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Interview Mon Nov 22 2010

One Last Word with Jean-Luc Naret

As of last Thursday, the Michelin Guide Chicago is officially out in bookstores everywhere. The soirees, the pranks, the dramas, the joys, and the critiques will all be quieting down soon, leaving Chicago with nothing left to focus on but the merits of the food under review itself.

Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, sat down and spoke with GB before heading off for one last fete around the world, as he has plans to step down from the organization at year's end.

How has the excitement and anticipation been in Chicago leading up to the launch?

Well, wonderful. I saw a lot of articles, a lot of speculation of food critics, journalists, and bloggers to try and find out who was going to be including in the Michelin Guide. It's always an interesting thing in a new city -- there's always a lot of speculation from chefs, a lot of anticipation from everyone to see who's going to get the stars, but not only that, but who's going to be included in the guide as well. And when we released the information, and I personally called the chefs -- it was interesting because some of them were recording the call, some of them were waiting for the call and put on the speakerphone with the team in the kitchen, which was a brilliant idea I thought. And all the responses have been the same somewhat -- very honored, very happy -- and of course, in the case of Grant (Achatz), very emotional, because it is something that happens just once in a lifetime.

How would you say the launch has compared to other cities, especially domestically in comparison to New York and San Francisco?

The first year is always something we're very proud of. It's like a new baby, and you find it very beautiful. It's a new city for us -- we have over 110 years of experience and expertise -- but it's a new guide so obviously it will improve throughout the years in terms of selection, in terms of the numbers of restaurants included in the guide, but so far, it's been very well-received. When we come to a new city, it's not a local point of view, it's not a national point of view, it's a global point of view. So we definitely put a spotlight on Chicago and put Chicago as one of the top destinations in the world for gastronomy.

This idea of global perspective plays well in a city as diverse, and with such a diversity of neighborhoods, as Chicago. Was there a conscious effort in the guide, especially in regards to the Bib Gourmand list, to maintain a balance to be reflective of the neighborhoods?

Well, Bib Gourmand really is what it is. I love to say a "little secret black list." It's definitely the sort of restaurant that you head to on the weekend. It's definitely the sort of restaurant you recommend to a friend because it's a good value for money. And trying to do the Bib Gourmand selection is trying to say which restaurants offer the best value in my neighborhood, which offers the place where I can go and casually eat for under $40. Altogether in the world, we have 45,000 establishments which are recommended by Michelin. Of these 45,000 establishments, we have 2,100 Bib Gourmands. And I think we have about 2,800 one-star establishments. The reason people really buy the book is for the access to the Bib Gourmand because you don't need to get a Michelin guide to know who gets a star -- you just need to read the papers.

It's interesting to see relatively new restaurants like Longman & Eagle receiving stars, combined with the stalwarts such as Charlie Trotter's. Do you attempt to balance some of the emerging, innovative places with the already established ones?

We are not looking at the name on the door or the name of the chef. What we're looking at is what is inside and on the plate. What we're saying, based on the experience of our inspectors, is can we recommend this restaurant to our friends or our readers. Does what we have on our plate deserve to be recognized as a Bib Gourmand or with a star? And that's really what it is, just trying to ensure that whoever or wherever the chef is coming from, we're going to say this restaurant really deserves to be recognized because of the plate.

Lastly, what's next for you? You're stepping down at year's end, yes?

It's been seven years since I took over this company. My global goal was to try and develop internationally -- and we've done it with success in the US and in Asia. I think we've done a lot in the last seven years, and you know, I'll be turning 50 at the beginning of the year, and it's time for me to move to a new challenge. And my new challenge will be creating my own company, but still keeping an eye on Michelin. We have a saying in France that in seven years either you divorce or you stay home, and I'm not divorcing. I'm staying on and keeping an eye out. Michelin has had an incredible 110 years of history and it will continue.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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