The first-ever Chicago Michelin Guide list of starred restaurants hit the wires about an hour ago and many chefs are sighing with relief, while many others are confused as to why a number of restaurants, like avec, Les Nomades, Sprout and North Pond, didn't make the cut. The Guide only included 23 restaurants through its three star categories, but we feel like there could've been room for more.
We caught up with Michelin Director Jean-Luc Naret moments after the list was released to discuss his early morning phone calls to the chefs, why some restaurants didn't get stars and what his future plans include after he leaves Michelin at the end of the year.
How's your morning so far?
Beautiful weather, fantastic calls with the chefs. It was very emotional and we had some great reactions. Some really incredible, saying dreams come true like Jared [Wentworth] from Longman [& Eagle]. Carrie [Nahabedian of NAHA] said that it's so exciting and that it's such an honor—a lot of people talk about honor and pride—and she was saying that tomorrow is the 10 year anniversary [of NAHA] so it was like a gift. Grant [Achatz] said, even if you expect and you wish you can get it, that this phone call is one of the things you always remember. He was really looking forward to the call.
So Grant was genuinely surprised and really happy?
Absolutely. When I got him on the phone he was really emotional about it. I managed to speak to Laurent Gras who is in New York and is coming back for the party tomorrow.
Did he say if he's coming back for good?
I honestly don't have any idea, but the book is out and the guy left [L20] like a week ago and I'm sure he has a great team in the kitchen and hopefully things will continue. Our inspectors will be back there to ensure the label is the same.
Who was your first call?
I started with one stars and then two and three. The first was Blackbird. I called Paul [Kahan] and then went through my list and paul was very happy.
What happened with avec—why didn't it get a star?
They had the fire and we were not able to go back there as much as we wanted to. We closed our selection at the beginning of September so we didn't have time. It was very good before the fire, but we couldn't go back. We didn't know if it was going to re-open or not so we didn't want to print a restaurant that we didn't know if it was going to be open. Obviously now that it's re-opened our inspectors will go there.
Who had the best reaction? Did anyone scream or cry?
[Laughs.] There was no screaming or crying here. There was more crying in San Francisco. Grant obviously, as I mentioned, was very emotional about it. Even if he expects to get three stars since it's seen as one of the top restaurants here, he wasn't expecting to receive my call and that's what happened.
What was your reaction when you saw that list on Yelp on Monday
There's always people who speculate. When you're actually able to read the list, and that's definitely close to what we did, and we said maybe it was time to call the chefs and send the release one day in advance. It doesn't make sense to have people learn from any other media than us. We closed the list in Chicago in September and we started putting the book together. You sign a lot of confidentiality agreements and all of this is very secure until it reaches bookstores. Obviously there's so many people involved in the process and you wish that nothing will happen to jeopardize that. We do the selection each year in the same way and sometimes one person can change the way we do things. You're not very happy when that happens.
Are you relieved that this, the final new book you'll release, is finally revealed?
The pressure isn't off [laughs]. It's not my final book, but it's the final baby which I will see under my term and I know that we have a plan for future books in the U.S. and Asia, which I put there. When you create a hotel you have a vision and you bring a team on board and you open. You're relieved when you open, but the expectation of the guests is there and it never ends. I was happy to start the development in the U.S. and Asia and it'll continue. You leave a bit of your soul in every guide. I leave a big part of my soul with the Michelin Guides. It was seven years that I spent. It was my choice to move on and do something else and I will keep an eye on my creation on the Michelin guide.
So, can you tell me now what your next plan is?
I'm still with Michelin so my job today is really to talk about what we're doing with Michelin. As my personal choice, I'll take a break at the end of the year and start my company with (companion) Colette Poupon. It's called Unique World.