This year, as the restaurant industry suffers the ravages of the Covid-19 restrictions, the Michelin Guide — that sacrosanct French arbiter (or dictator) of taste whose star- rating system has made and broken chefs for more than a century — has decided to go easy.
The organization unveiled its 2021 results against the backdrop of the raging pandemic that has closed most restaurants in Europe (and thrown an unknown number permanently out of business) with advance notice that no three-star chefs would be demoted and that only a handful of stars were removed from restaurants forced to close or change their dining concept.
The guide has been highly criticized for maintaining its stars rating this year after the brutal losses suffered throughout the industry while its competitors decided to cancel theirs.
“The rival Best 50 list, based in Britain, cancelled its 2020 ranking last year, while France’s La Liste said this month that instead of rankings, it would honor innovative chefs who have persevered in the face of the pandemic,” wrote AFP.
A difficult task
Assembling Michelin’s guide in France was a difficult endeavor given the COVID-19 lockdowns adopted by governments. Judges had to work double-time during the easing of the restrictions and cancel their summer vacations to conduct their inspections during the months between spring and autumn when restaurants were allowed to reopen before they were forced again to close.
They continue to be closed and the French government is adopting new harsher measures.
“They were able — while sticking to our time-honoured methodology and making as many visits as usual — to establish a selection of restaurants as credible and trustworthy as in previous years,” Gwendal Poullennec, the guide’s international director, explained.
Only one French new superstar: AM
The Michelin Guide unveiled its 2021 French edition, the ‘bible of gastronomy’, during a recent ceremony broadcast on Facebook from the Jules Verne restaurant (one-star) located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, a far different event than the lavish gala ceremony originally planned to be held for the first time outside Paris — in Cognac, southwestern France — and moved due social distancing rules.
The AM restaurant by chef Alexandre Mazzia, in a residential district of the port city of Marseille, was elevated to the most-coveted ranking of three Michelin stars.
France, including Monaco, now counts 30 three-star establishments, the most of any country.
“Alexandre Mazzia, a former pro basketball player born in the Republic of Congo, saw his AM restaurant get its third star, this year’s only new entrant to the upper echelons of French gastronomy,” reports AFP.
Among the mouth-watering dishes noted by the agency that have made chef Mazzia a ‘critics darling’ are algae popcorn, smoked eel and chocolate-and-raspberry sorbet with harissa.
The example of Noma: creating alternatives
During the pandemic, chef Mazzia has also been offering “culinary jewels” from a food truck with meal baskets at around €30.
Like Mazzia, other starred chefs have pivoted to alternative practices such as takeaway or deliveries, adapting menus and often cutting prices while pressing governments to let them reopen as soon as possible in an effort to survive the pandemic.
Such is the case of the world-famous restaurant Noma, considered a gastronomic mecca in Copenhagen, Denmark. For years, it topped the list of the world’s best restaurants, collecting awards and accolades including two Michelin stars.
“What crazy and uncertain times,” Redzepi wrote on Instagram. “We will transform into a no-reservation, drop-in-only, wine-and-burger bar.”
Many other restaurants haven’t been able to transform themselves — a reality reflected in a Michelin guide that includes several demotions and cancellations of stars to restaurants that have been closed permanently or have gone into newer ventures to keep afloat.
The new one-and-two star restaurants
It also selected 54 new first-star chefs, including the young chefs of the year: Mory Sacko of the restaurant Mosuke in Paris, mixing French, Japanese and Malian flavors, and Coline Faulquier of Signature, proposing a wide-range of small-portions-tasting menus in Marseille.
“A lower vintage than in 2020, where 63 restaurants joined the constellation of Michelin stars in France to bring the selection to 628 houses stamped with macaroons,” writes Le Point.
Fresh starred restaurants in Great Britain
As with the French edition, the Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland has been published as restaurants remain closed due to coronavirus lockdown measures.
Despite the setback, and “to promote the industry as much as we possibly can and to shine a light on our industry,” Michelin announced the selection of two new three-star restaurants in London led by women chefs.
The Connaught in Mayfair, central London, run by French-born chef Hélène Darroze, (who also won a second star for her Paris restaurant, Marsan), and Core in Notting Hill west London, by chef Clare Smyth, who catered Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s evening wedding reception.
“They are the first women in the U.K. to win three stars in their own right, though Smyth was the guardian of the three stars at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, where she was formerly chef patron,” Bloomberg writes.
Adding the two new three-starred restaurants, Great Britain now numbers a total of seven.
Only 130 restaurants across the world have the coveted three-star rating.
Chef Andrew Wong of A Wong in southwest London earned a second Michelin star, the first Chinese restaurant in the U.K. to earn the distinction, for his “refined, sophisticated cooking that shows diversity and originality.”
Also in London, Da Terra in Bethnal Green, home of international chefs Rafael Cagali and Paulo Airaudo, and chef Tom Sellers’s Restaurant Story in Southwark, got a second star to complete 20 two-star restaurants in that country.
Seventeen restaurants were awarded new single stars for a total of 158 one-star restaurants and another 23 restaurants were granted a new green-star award for their sustainable approach to gastronomy.
New starred restaurants in Switzerland
Four new restaurants in Switzerland got a second Michelin star for a total record of 24 two stars “worth a detour:” The Cà d’Oro, located inside the Grand Hôtel des Bains Kempinski in St. Moritz, Magdalena in Schwyz, Sens in Hotel Vitznauerhof on the shores of Lake Lucerne and Widder Restaurant in Zürich.
Sixteen more restaurants in the country earned their first star.
Here is the complete list of Swiss starred restaurants.
New stars in Belgium and Luxembourg
The 2021 edition of the Michelin Guide Belgium and Luxembourg includes a new three star restaurant, Zilte in Antwerp with chef Viki Geunes and two new two-star ones: Chef Maarten Bouckaert’s Castor in Beveren-Leie and the duo of chefs Bart Desmidt and Philip Vandamme at Bartholomeus, in Knokke.
Ten new restaurants got one star. In all, the guide for Belgium and Luxembourg features no fewer than 137 starred restaurants.
Here is the complete list.
The new starred restaurants in Spain and Portugal
The 2021 selection of the Michelin Guide Spain & Portugal includes three restaurants in Spain awarded two stars: Bo.TiC in Corçà, Girona, run by Chef Albert Sastregener, Cinc Sentits in Barcelona, headed by Chef Jordi Artal and Culler de Pau in O Grove, Pontevedra in Galicia, where Chef Javier Olleros orchestrates the kitchen.
In Portugal, two new restaurants in Lisbon were awarded one star: Portuguese-Yugoslavian Chef Ljubomir Stanisic’s 100 Maneiras which, during the pandemic, is offering takeaway and home delivery, and Eneko Lisboa from Spanish chef Eneko Atxa Azurmendi, who also owns the three-star restaurant Azurmendi near Bilbao, considered one of the best in the world.
In total, 21 establishments received their first star, 53 restaurants were added to the Bib Gourmand category and 21 were awarded the new Michelin Green Star.
Three stars are given for “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” says Michelin. “Our highest award is given for the superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession.” Two stars represent “excellent cooking, worth a detour.” One star is for “high-quality cooking, worth a stop.” Michelin also has the Bib Gourmand, a separate category of award for good-value, inexpensive restaurants.