Last week food media buzzed about Los Angeles and California finally getting a Michelin guide after Michelin infamously said in the past that LA did not have “real foodies”. LA was finally getting its due according to the chatter and proving the national food elites wrong.
This week all that hype and media attention redirected when it became known that Visit California paid Michelin $600,000 to build a California guide. It isn’t the first time with South Korea paying Michelin $1.8 million for a guide in the past to much criticism and claims of corruption. Eater did a thorough look in the past into this pay-to-play environment, but did not have a local case to look to.
California is legitimately one of the best states to eat at in the United States, funding a Michelin guide is a weird look for a state that is pushing and constantly changing the food industry.
Change of heart? More like change of cash. If Michelin guides are simply pay-to-play that really cheapens the prestige of the system. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for a private business to peddle around a star system for restaurants? If anything Michelin truly shot itself in the foot yesterday when this was published into the news.
To be clear – Visit California and tourism bureaus in general regularly pay for sponsored ads with entities from influencers to writers and publications. Many of those Top 10 guides you see in publications are not as organic as they may seem.
The partner groups are usually required to only cover restaurant and business partners to the tourism bureau (read companies that have paid for coverage), although Michelin claims that there has been no control from tourism bureaus over the restaurants receiving star ratings. Still none of these groups have the kind of recognition and so-called prestige that a Michelin star has.
Last week I dined at Mensho Tokyo in San Francisco, a Michelin Star restaurant, and packed with crowds out the door. There is no denying that a Michelin star brings business and Mensho Tokyo is certainly one of the best ramen bowls I’ve enjoyed recently. Their Michelin rating hangs proudly outside their door for diners to see. This kind of system should not be pay-to-play.
What if Yelp charged cities and taxpayers to exist in their towns? I am sure the outrage would be through the roof. What Michelin is doing is no different.
Miami is one of the most populated cities in the world and is filled with plenty of great restaurants and chefs making waves as well a rich and diverse dining landscape. Yet there is no Michelin stars there? Evan Benn made a great point yesterday that without Visit Florida and Miami paying out cash to Michelin there is no guide. Is this in any way fair to the chefs and restaurants doing great work in Miami?
How can Michelin call themselves a legitimate source of great restaurants if they are going to snub cities, states, and nations that refuse to fund their private enterprise? Quality should not be decided by whether your town has paid their Michelin taxes. LA was always a great place to eat, but Michelin did not care until they were paid their fee and tried to spin it as a public relations win.
Who is Michelin to decide what towns matter and are “foodie” towns? During a time period where we cannot even fund our schools and pay our teachers, why is taxpayer funding being directed to a private dining guide like Michelin? How many local publications could have been supported with the funding that Michelin is swallowing from tourism agencies? Should Michelin stars matter anymore? I don’t think so.