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"A Bunch of Restaurant Ratings from a Tire Manufacturer:" Critics and Chefs Joke and Gripe about Michelin

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 16, 2011 3:00PM

2011_11_15MichelinHighRes.jpg In case you hadn't heard, the Michelin stars for 2012 were released yesterday. The level of obsession with Michelin within the Chicago food media was a bit out of control, as evidenced by the number of times we hit the refresh button yesterday on our inbox.

As with anything this intense, some gallows humor is required to break the tension. And amidst the standard flood of congratulatory messages, humble thanks to Michelin and furious self-promotion, some weren't so happy. These included tweeting chefs, owners and critics, some left out of the rankings and some angry that others were. Tweets and posts ranged from bitter to hilarious. Join us on a tour of the lighter side of the Michelin rankings.

The fun began before the stars even arrived. Several chefs and critics weighed in on the potential rankings; others simply teased us.

Chef Phillip Foss (of El Ideas) tweeted: "I just received a phone call!! Nothing special, just always this happy to get phone calls," referring to Michelin's practice of calling each chef who gets stars. Mike Sula tried to fake us out, tweeting: "OMG!!! 3 STARS!!!! . . .for the fried fish cakes at JoongBoo Market." Carly Fisher of The Feast, tweeted that she got a press release from Michelin... before following up with a "just kidding." Michael Nagrant, dining critic of the Sun-Times, speculated on the delay: "Thinking Michelin is making last minute list changes according to new philosophy "What Would Phil Vettel Do?" We joked that, if that were true, every restaurant would get 2 and a half stars.

Once the stars came out, one of the most controversial topics was the exclusion of Next. Next received no stars and no Bib Gourmand. According to an interview Michelin gave to the Trib, this was because the inspectors couldn't get in often enough to review the restaurant for consistency.

The first response was from Next's Nick Kokonas, via twitter and facebook. "It seems that the Michelin inspectors, while famously anonymous, are also famously luddites.... did they not see the daily sales on Facebook?" Later that night, Kokonas offered to help out Michelin: "@MichelinGuideCH let me introduce you to our FB page. Same night tix every night. :-)." He wasn't the only one angry at the exclusion of Next. Nagrant included Next in his stream of congratulations: "Also, congrats to Next restaurant for being so far ahead of the curve that Michelin doesn't know what to do with itself." Jeff Ruby of Chicago magazine pointed out Michelin's potential lack of perspective: "I don't know if Next deserved stars or not. All I know is it's the biggest opening in godknowshowlong and Michelin didn't mention it at all." A similar comment from Scott Smith: "If Next changes too often for Michelin to evaluate it using its current methods then shouldn't they change their methods?" Mike Gebert gave us his take on Michelin's reasoning: "Apparently the logic is, if a place is so good it's packed, Michelin can't get in so no stars. Half-empty=stars! Must be great!"

The complaints over the exclusion of Next rapidly spilled over into other complaints. A common concern about Michelin is that they exclude suburban restaurants; since the only Midwestern guide is Chicago, there is no other way for these to be included. Chef John Des Rosiers of Inovasi complained that: "we r supposed to listen to michelin when they don't "bother" with Next or anyplace we can take a train to?" before realizing his mistake. "I misunderstood. I now see the tires aren't good enough to go more than 25 miles. How silly of me." Fisher complained about the inclusion of Schwa (a common topic for griping here at Chicagoist HQ): "Tell me, how is it that Michelin gets into Schwa enough times to determine consistency over Next? Just curious. I mean, at Next, you're guaranteed a reservation with tickets, while at Schwa you're lucky if your reservation is honored at all." Jeff Ruby pointed out that "North Pond didn't get asked to the prom, again" while Nagrant complained that "North Pond and Avec were definitely robbed for a second straight year."

After a few hours, the griping seemed to lose steam. Michelin is what it is, great Chicago chefs (including those ignored by the inspectors) will continue to do great work and we will continue to eat at their restaurants. Two of Chicago's best writers helped to close out the night with some perspective. First, from Marcus Gilmer: "Frankly, all this talk of Michelin stars/snubs angers me because no one is talking about the biggest snub of all: @PopeyesChicken." Last, from GrubStreet's Mike Gebert: "Gotta RT myself from a year ago: 'The real excitement will be next week when the General Foods Guide to Auto Parts comes out.'