The simple reason no SA restaurant has ever been awarded a Michelin star
Steve Steinfeld on the 'Great Michelin Myth', and why our obsession with this international food guide isn't doing our local chefs any favours
Making it into the Michelin Guide — created by the tyre brand to get the French driving and hence increase demand for tyres — has become the ultimate accolade for a chef, especially the maximum three-star rating.
To give an indication of the levels each star represents, of France’s 632 starred establishments, 520 received one star, 85 received two stars, and a mere 27 received the coveted third star.
The guide, however, does not review restaurants worldwide and currently has no presence in Africa (or Australia, for that matter). [That's the reason there are no Michelin-stared restaurants in SA.] As such, there’s very little known about Michelin locally. This has resulted in the perpetuation of the Great Michelin Myth, and anyone visiting our shores who has so much as glanced at a star is met with reverence and idolisation.
There is technically no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef — the restaurant, not the chef, is awarded the star
Chefs have Michelin clout when they’ve merely spent a few months in a starred restaurant. I’ve tasted some of their cooking, and can’t imagine they did much more than wash dishes and possibly peel the occasional carrot.
Though there is technically no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef — the restaurant, not the chef, is awarded the star — it’s an accepted convention that only a chef in the top position at the time of a star being awarded should be considered a “Michelin-starred chef”.
We, of course, do have South African-born chefs who have deservedly received stars. Philip Howard held two stars at The Square in London for 19 years, and Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen has been awarded one star for the fourth consecutive year at his eponymous eatery in Nice on the French Riviera. Their restaurants are undisputedly fantastic.
Howard held two stars at The Square in London for 19 years, and Van der Westhuizen has been awarded one star for the fourth consecutive year at his eponymous eatery in Nice on the French Riviera. Their restaurants are undisputedly fantastic.
However, holding “Michelin-starred” chefs in higher regard than our top South African chefs is unfair. Our chefs don’t have stars because Michelin don’t have a South African guide, not because they aren’t worthy.
Our chefs are breaking boundaries and innovating in their own right, and I’d confidently put money on numerous one stars, a few two stars, and even possibly a few three stars being awarded should the guide ever make its way south.
FAST FACTS ABOUT THE MICHELIN GUIDE
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD
Founded in 1900, the guide has become one of the benchmarks against which the greatest dining is measured. Contrary to popular belief, décor, service, and ambience hold no sway. Restaurants are judged on food quality alone.
AWARDS ARE BASED ON FIVE CRITERIA
- Quality of the ingredients used.
- Mastery of flavour and cooking techniques.
- The personality of the chef in their cuisine.
- Value for money.
- Consistency between visits.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN
In a nod to the guide’s travelling roots, the stars represent the following:
- One star: High-quality cooking, worth a stop.
- Two stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
- Three stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.