My wife and I are addicted to Australian Masterchef. This series has totally changed my view of that small island on the other side of the Indian Ocean. As a rugby and cricket fan- we sometimes find it difficult to like Aussies. Maybe it is just a little jealousy. They are really good at sport, and they know it… but Australian Masterchef changed the perception of the people of Australia a lot. We actually started to like them a lot. But when Gary and George and Matt starts introducing rock star chefs, they sometimes drop the title of “Michelin stars” behind a chef’s name.
Now, before Australian Masterchef, we did not have any idea of good cooking. My idea of a good dish remains a medium rare steak prepared on my Weber, with our South African Mieliepap (only Africans get it, I think… almost cous cous but not quite…) and a salad. Would the Michelin inspectors like our Christmas lunch at Casa Rider?
Some steaks- from well done for the grandmothers to medium rare for me… and some Boerewors- our famous sausages…
And some salads, some veggies even sourced in my own garden…
We have yet to find a Michelin star restaurant in South Africa, I don’t think they give any stars to MacDonalds or Wimpy… I have seen a few chefs on the internet that is Michelin starred, but I am not sure that Michelin travels here to award stars in a guide.
I also saw somebody referring to “South Africa’s only 5 star Michelin restaurant…” but I have only heard of three stars.
So how does it work? Yes, I know, you can google it like I did, you don’t have to read my version of it. But for those who want a short answer, read on…
The beautiful story over at Wikipedia says that the Michelin brothers, André and Edouard, was in this little company making car tyres. At that stage in 1900 there were maybe 3000 cars in the whole of France. So they thought to get the public going on road trips- more kilometers covered means more tyre wear, means more potholes connected, means more business- you see? So, these two brothers started promoting road trips, with free tour guides for motorists. In these tour guides you would find the info needed for your road trip, with essential info like where to buy your Michelin tyres. Also where to find petrol (gasoline…) and mechanics along the way. Where to find a place to sleep. And while you are at it, where to find a decent meal… They printed 35000 copies for their first edition in 1900, talk about vision! Then they started spreading the news, to Belgium in 1904, They even had guides for Algeria and Tunisia in 1907 before they started the UK edition in 1911…
The story goes that the guides were free of charge, until André Michelin saw a stack of guides used to prop up a workbench. Then they decided that people only value what they pay for, and people started paying for the Michelin guides.
It became a sign of good quality cuisine if the Michelin inspectors visited your restaurant, and award you a star rating in one of the guides.
But how does it work?
According to this excellent article in the Telegraph: You will not know when there are Michelin inspectors in your restaurant. They don’t warn you to prepare your very best- they just arrive as normal, incognito paying customers. There are a few dozen of these inspectors worldwide. They have some culinary background, some are chefs themselves. They take great pains to avoid recognition, and will not travel officially in the same region for 10 years after an inspection trip. They are looking for new restaurants worthy of a mention. They will also visit currant Michelin star holding restaurants to see if they maintain, improve or lose their star rating. Gordon Ramsey lost two stars in a Manhatten restaurant- these cause tears…
There is a certain standard which must be met. The inspectors says: ” it all depends on the food, cooking, flavour, texture, technique. Good value for money in clean surroundings…”
There are no 5 stars in the Michelin world. The following star classification was decided on in 1936.
- one star: “A very good restaurant in its category” (“Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie”)
- two stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (“Table excellente, mérite un détour”)
- three stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (“Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage”)
I am still not sure about the Michelin star restaurants in our country. But it is my birthday in a few weeks time. And I would love to take my wife to La Madeleine in Pretoria- I think they would easily earn a star. Never been there, I hear it is amazing!
South African readers- any exceptional restaurants that I should put on my culinary bucket list?