Yesterday's unveiling of the 2012 Michelin Chicago guide was fairly underwhelming and left people scratching their heads as to why more restaurants weren't added and why some that had been given stars last year had them taken away. Eater reached out to the Michelin folks to see what was up.
When the guide was released, food enthusiasts were upset that restaurants like Les Nomades, Arun's, North Pond and others were overlooked again this year—and also grumbled that with the level of quality restaurants in Chicago that the stars list didn't grow. "There is no set number of stars we look for each year," said the guide's North American editor in chief, who remains anonymous. "Our Chicago inspectors find what exists and some years that number goes up and other years it does not. It truly reflects what we find on the plate during our anonymous visits."
The editor reminded Eater that while the stars list is important, it's only part of the guide, which still holds a lot of weight (but try telling that to chefs who don't get starred). "Chicago has an incredible restaurant scene. It's important to take a look at the entire selection as the stars are only a very small part of that," she said. "The selection in the Michelin Guide Chicago 2012 edition grew 27 percent and we added 118 new restaurants across the city and suburbs. This is a true reflection of how amazing the culinary scene is."
But still, that doesn't explain why some places, like the forward-thinking Next or North Pond were excluded, so we probed deeper. Regarding Next, the inspectors weren't able to get in as often as they would have liked, but that's part of the process anyone goes through. And because the restaurant changes its concept every three months, they felt that made the menu inconsistent for inclusion.
"The reservations process was only one part of our decision to not include the restaurant in the guide as there are plenty of other restaurants we inspect with challenging reservations processes," the editor said. "What Grant [Achatz] is doing there is fantastic and a true challenge by creating essentially a new restaurant every quarter. But for us, one of our key criteria is consistency and it's difficult to establish this across each quarterly theme at Next to be able to fairly represent a rating or description for our reader. We are all about consistency.
A few restaurants lost their stars this year, like NoMI, which reconcepted into the more casual NoMI Kitchen after it received a star in last year's guide. The inspectors revisited NoMI Kitchen, but "did not find a star there." As for Crofton on Wells, they felt the quality slipped. "At Crofton on Wells we unfortunately saw a consistent decline in the quality of cuisine."
So why not include a place like North Pond, where chef/owner Bruce Sherman was nominated for a James Beard award earlier this year? "We follow North Pond very closely as we see a lot of commitment there and hope to find a star one year. For some of the other restaurants people are disappointed not to see stars, perhaps it's a difference between a long-time local favorite and what we look for in our star criteria."
That said, hopefully Michelin will be a little more aggressive for the 2013 guide and beef up the list. "There are quite a few new places we're looking at closely for star consideration for the 2013 edition," she said. So there you have it.
· Michelin Guide Revealed: Alinea Keeps 3 Stars; L20 Drops to 1; Avenues Off List [~EChi~]