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Chicagoist’s “Top 10 in 2010:” #8 - The Guide Michelin Frenzy

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 22, 2010 4:00PM

MichelinCover.jpg Back in July, we got the exciting news that the Guide Michelin, the most prestigious guidebook in the food world, was coming to Chicago. Chicago was going to be their third city in the United States, after New York and San Francisco, and every high-end restaurant owner in Chicago started scrambling to make sure that they made the list. Michelin reviewers had been eating all over Chicago for two years, taking their anonymous notes, and while some restaurant owners told us, off the record, that they had spotted Michelin reviewers, most of the restaurant world held its breath.

We were slightly skeptical about the entire endeavor. How much would the presence of Michelin stars actually change the Chicago food scene? Would Chicagoans actually buy a guide produced in France? We made some predictions, and except for Caitlin, we all turned out to be almost completely wrong. Carrie managed to catch some luck with Naha, though her other prediction, North Pond (one of our favorites) got robbed.

On November 10th, owners all over Chicago woke up to outlines of the Michelin man outside of their restaurants, signifying that they were winners of the “Bib Gourmand” - an award for the best value. Some of our favorites made the list, including West Town Tavern and the Bristol, though other choices puzzled critics. The Bib Gourmand list was the first indication that Michelin might be a bit… out of touch, as far as we local critics were concerned.

Predictions continued to run wild, and two days before the official announcement, a poster on Yelp/a> put up a list of the winners of the Michelin stars. No surprises, really - L20 and Alinea were the only 3-star winners, with Avenues, Charlie Trotters and Ria gaining 2 stars. Speculation ran wild as to how a random person managed to get hold of this tightly-held secret, but it turned out that the list was entirely accurate - a victim of an early shipping error. The announcements were quickly moved up, and we attended the gala reception - and were frankly unimpressed with the reaction of Chicago chefs. Everyone was somewhat shocked that Laurent Gras, the chef of L20, had left only a few days before the announcement (making the guide already out of date) and that notable Chicago favorites like Avec were left off the list.

To the rest of the world, this is an incredible story, and the fact that Chicago chefs don’t much seem to care doesn’t diminish the guide’s importance for tourists and visitors. There were no real surprises on the list (except possibly the much-grumped-about inclusion of Longman and Eagle, but it re-affirms Chicago’s place as one of the most important culinary centers of the world.