Should Michelin stars matter anymore?

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.

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10 brands I recommend from Winter Fancy Food Show 2019 in SF

Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco

I attended the Winter Fancy Food Show this year in San Francisco. This food-industry trade show features 80,000+ specialty food and beverages as well as thousands of new products, industry networking events, and 1,400+ exhibitors from around the planet.

I was able to try hundreds of new products coming to the food industry. These are the 10 brands that left the biggest impression on me and that I’m recommending to my readers.

  1. Ithaca Cold-Crafted Hummus: A premium hummus brand that is achieved by using cold processing techniques that preserve nutrients that are normally lost when heating ingredients to make hummus. There are no GMOs, no preservatives, no citric acids, no artificial ingredients, no canola, and no soy. What’s really incredible is how fresh this hummus tastes with each bite. My favorite flavors were the garlic hummus and lemon dill.
  2. Proud Label: This is a new brand that makes spreads made with different vegetables. It was in the Incubator Village at the Fancy Food Show. Each one I tried was truly delicious with my favorite being the Product Label Red that is made with beets and pepper. It tasted like it would go great on a breakfast item (maybe even some Huevos Rancheros). The Proud Label Orange was also delicious and uses carrots, cauliflower, and spices to create a great spread. I hope to see these in stores soon.
  3. Blue Evolution: An incubator that grows seaweed in Baja California and Alaska and is finding new ways to introduce them the public. Right now they sell penne and rotini pasta to the public, but soon they will release seaweed popcorn which was an awesome experience to try and is something I’ve never thought of doing before. I want more soon.
  4. Ocean’s Halo: Speaking of seaweed. It seemed to be an emerging trend at the Fancy Food Show. Ocean’s Halo had a variety of products on display but their kelp-based ramen broth blew me away as well as their soy less sauces made with seaweed. There are so many things I want to try now from this brand after this experience.
  5. Villa Piva Jucies: Southern Brazil is creating 100% natural juices that have no preservatives, no added water, no added sugar, and juices that are gluten-free and lactose-free. They are quite tasty and my favorite was the apple juice made with hibiscus, cinnamon, and ginger. Their tangerine juice was also quite tasty and is made with lemongrass. I’d recommend giving them a look.
  6. Exotic Food Thailand: This brand from Thailand is beginning to sell Thai chili sauces made with Stevia which is a nice alternative to the sugary Thai products currently on the market and can be helpful for diabetics who still want to have some sweeter flavor in their food. Upon sampling these sauces, even I would make the switch if the product becomes available to me.
  7. Shimadaya: This Japanese brand makes Shin Uchi Frozen Ramen which was probably one of the booths I ran past the quickest, but actually had a lasting impression because it tasted quite good and requires very little preparation. Just 20-40 seconds boiling depending on whether you want standard or thick noodles. This product is not out just yet on the market, but is coming soon.
  8. Roam Free Bison Bites: Food with a mission describes Roam Free Bison Bites. The owner, Brittany Masters, hopes to make grass-fed bison a staple of the American diet again. She owns a sustainable start-up ranch in Western Montana that smokes premium bison meat in small batches and flavors with organic spices. The bison jerky snacks are high protein (24 grams per snack) and sugar-free. Farmers need Americans to eat bison again to help make their farms grow and become more sustainable. Personally, I found the snacks to be quick yummy and healthier than beef jerky.
  9. The Swiss Rosti: This is a product from Portland, Oregon that can be used as snack, side dish, or hor d’oeuvre and is made with vegetables blended with potatoes or sweet potatoes. The one I tried was the Curry Lentil flavor whcih is made with shredded parsnip, carrot and potato filled with Curried Acorn Squash and Cauliflower. It was gluten-free, vegan, and incredibly delicious! I would buy these.
  10. Aedan Foods: This is a local SF food business that makes fermented rice with something called koji which can be used as a food starter for different dishes. They offer different fermented items for cooking including miso, shio koji, amazake, and sagohachi. Their products use non-GMO and organic ingredients. I tried the shio koji and it was delicious. Fermentation is so important in Asian food cuisines and there is plenty of ways this can be used in cooking. I’ve never seen something like it in the Southeast. There’s a bit of a learning curve to their products, but they have recipes and plenty of information on their website.

Until next time!