Alex Claridge, The Wilderness: 'I am almost positive that we will not get a star and for the first time that’s OK'

The Staff Canteen

Chef owner of The Wilderness in Birmingham Alex Claridge discusses his experience with the Michelin guide, his changing views of accolades and what a Michelin star means to him now

As the announcement of new Michelin stars in the Guide for Great Britain and Ireland 2022 is to set for tomorrow, Alex Claridge, like many other chefs, has found himself at grips with the nerve-racking uncertainty of what awaits. 

In a blog post on the restaurant's website, the chef explained that his feelings about accolades have changed over the years. Despite having run a restaurant which he describes as "a bit “Michelin” for over half a decade," and being listed in the Guide for almost as long, The Wilderness is yet to receive a star.

What makes a restaurant worthy of a Michelin star?

So what is it about a restaurant that makes it worthy of one, two, or even three stars, he ponders, and does it really matter to not have one?

"This year I am almost positive that we will not get a star and for the first time that’s (mostly) OK, and I think I understand why," he said, as the restaurant has been busy, popular and critically-acclaimed without one, and having come to the conclusion that, at least in part, gaining a Michelin star requires pigeon-holeing oneself and defining a singular style for the restaurant, something he has always resisted.

"I reflect on those that I think are safest bets for a new star locally (and beyond) and it seems to me it is the restraint and focus of a singular vision for food that is the best predictor of stardom."

"Knowing this, I sense that to attain that elusive star there would need to be much reflection on whether we can be tamed, and if so, can it be done so without diminishing what we do?" 

'A gulf in the standards from star to star'

Despite all his theorising, he continued, the Michelin guides criteria remain elusive and mysterious to him - and some of its decisions, he said, are contentious.

"My experience of Michelin restaurants is personally hit and miss," he said, "and there’s certainly a gulf in the standards from star to star." 

Tired of trying to decipher the guide's system, Alex has found a "waning concern for accolades," with his focus instead moving "towards introspection at the expense of external validation."

'I do still find myself gazing longingly at the guide'

Even with this new, equanimous outlook, Alex wrote, "I do still find myself gazing longingly at the guide for the sake of [The Wilderness head chef] Marius [Gedminas] and our young team, the ones who do the heavy-lifting for those of us who own and run restaurants."

His view of what a star means for the restaurant has changed, but, he added: "I still want it, but for them now," not as "a tangible beacon of ambition and focus," but because of what the star will mean for his business.

Having a star undeniably has marketing value for a restaurant, he said, not to mention that it recognises the hard work of a team, so he wants it "not because I believe fundamentally a star will change how I feel about food (complex-obsessive-conflicted) nor how I wish to run my business, but because it holds meaningful weight (and is so deserved) for our team." 

In such a difficult context as the current time is for restaurants, he concluded, "as hospitality becomes increasingly hard, ever more complex and so many leave our industry I am supportive of anything that celebrates and encourages a sector that has much challenge ahead."

"In the meanwhile, the very best of luck to all those to whom I know this will mean so very much.  I very much hope to see more stars locally and our entire team will be rooting for you. And to Marius and The Wilderness crew, you’ll always be my guides, no matter what the fella in the fat suit has to say about it."

Read Alex's full blog post, 'The Importance of Being Earnest,' here.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th February 2022

Alex Claridge, The Wilderness: 'I am almost positive that we will not get a star and for the first time that’s OK'