Michelin Guide launched in Florida yesterday for the first time. Miami and Orlando restaurants went home with stars. No Tampa restaurants were awarded a “star” designation. I immediately received messages of disappointment and dismay. Three Tampa restaurants did receive the Bib Gourmand designation, or “value-for-money award”: Ichicoro, Rooster & the Till, and Rocca.
It has been well-covered that Michelin is funded by tourism bureaus to bring guides to a certain city and in Florida’s case they received millions of dollars from the tourism bureaus in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami to bring the guide to those areas.
How much clout those tourism bureaus have in who wins and who loses has been well-debated, but I think if you look at who won yesterday, it seems the tourism bureaus may have less clout that previously imagined and instead there is a type of restaurant or caliber that seems to draw the awards. There were restaurants who would have clearly won if the tourism bureaus had a say that did not.
Tampa is a town in transition. The changes that started in South Tampa and Seminole Heights after the 2008 Great Recession have spread to Midtown Tampa, Tampa Heights, and across the city as more restaurants open and chefs take more risks and there is more on the way.
Michelin at the end of the day is a tool for tourism, to bring people town and to shine a light on the growing food scene throughout Florida. That goal will be accomplished regardless of “star” ratings. Most cities in the United States do not have a Michelin Guide, but now three cities in Florida, including Tampa, do.
Cities like Miami have long been graced with top chefs, big money, and the kind of fine-dining, high-end experiences that would be the modus operandi or M.O. for a Michelin Guide. Tampa, on the other hand, is a working-class town with an average income of $40K, Tampa is growing from the bottom-up, not the other way around. That means there are growing pains and changes as the city tries to grow and adapt.
Does that mean there’s no good food in Tampa or that Tampa is not a food town? Of course not. Tampa has great food everywhere and Tampa is growing every day. Some projects don’t end well and others come and go, but there are people throughout Tampa working to bring something new and to make changes to the food scene here.
Places that have helped Tampa grow like The Refinery, Ichicoro, Edison, Rooster and the Till, and others are part of long journey in Tampa’s culinary scene. Every failed risk, every new chef, every new direction, is part of the evolution for Tampa. Opening the palettes of diners and diners demanding more from places that serve them has been a long journey.
The pandemic itself has reshaped the entire dining map in Tampa, and like most of the world, businesses have had to adapt to a changing world, moving to takeout, losing staff members, trying to keep everyone happy in a world filed with chaos. The fact these places are still standing at all is nothing short of a miracle.
Florida as a whole has long been looked over by the James Beard Foundation, Michelin, and other organizations and groups based in New York City or that only stop in to Florida for a trip to Disney World or Universal Studios. No one can change the politics of Michelin, but what Tampa can do is to look this as an opportunity to grow and advance.
The spotlight is clearly on Tampa now. You can see the change. The future is coming for the City of Tampa. Now it’s up to Tampa to grab it as it comes. The time is now.
About me: Hello my name is Carlos Hernandez and I am a food writer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. I write the food blog Carlos Eats (http://www.carloseats.com) and also contribute to several newspapers and magazines with food-related blogs and articles.