Interview with Rebecca Burr - editor of the Michelin Guide

The  Staff Canteen

With the next Michelin Guide 2015 coming out on the 25th September we spoke to their editor Rebecca Burr, to find out how the guide is still holding its own amongst a sea of online reviews and to dispel any misconceptions surrounding the coveted Michelin stars.   Could you clarify how the star is awarded, is it to the chef or the operation? It is for the operation. Often when there is a change of chef it’s quite a smooth transition. The operation will employ a good quality chef that gains the star, they may go mid-year and then be replaced with somebody of the same calibre that retains the star. So they don’t go off with it in his or her pocket, it is awarded to the food being served and quite often the head chef isn’t there for every single service, so it’s a team effort. How many inspectors are there and do they have a set region that they cover? There was a set number many years ago but it’s become less relevant over the years because we are such an international operation now, we have inspectors that work worldwide. Certainly members of my team have spent time in the last year in Asia, America, Spain and Germany, so we don’t really have a set number. Certainly they don’t have a set region in the UK. They never have and this is why we differ from some of the other organisations. There’s well over 120 worldwide and that number is growing all the time.

When we set up new regions in Asia and America, it's set up by a combination of experienced inspectors from every main country, so France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the UK. They go out and set up a guide and we then train local people. They work alongside the experienced inspectors until we feel that we can leave them to establish their own country. It’s got to be run by people that live and work in those regions. Likewise when my team are working in other countries, the same happens with the German team, the Italian and the French. We are always going backwards and forwards and we call upon, for example, our experts in Japan to come and look at restaurants over here if we feel we need another opinion. Once the inspectors have been do they announce that they've visited or that they are coming beforehand? Certainly not beforehand. We hope that they don’t and that they don’t twig that we are coming along. Years and years ago it used to be that a booking for one and you’d stand out completely but now more and more people are dining alone.

We only have to do that because of the cost and the logistics, it would be great if we all went around in pairs all the time but we would never be able to cover the places. But the important places we always go as a two. These days with some places that don’t take reservations you can just walk in without booking. We do an announced visit roughly every 18 months, just to have a look around the premises see the bedrooms, go around the kitchen. That’s always part of one type of visit but we do make various amounts of visits unannounced as well. It’s not our place to interrupt, they’re operating their business we want them to look after their customers so we don’t want to stop and take up their time. Although we are really well received and we get nice people that want to show us how much they've spent doing up the place or what their latest thing is in the kitchen.

Is there a set number of visits for each 1, 2 or 3 star restaurant, so would a 3 star have more visits than a 1? We treat each place completely individually, if there has been a change of chef in a starred establishment then it is automatically visited. We like to allow the chef enough time to settle in but we are working to an annual guide deadline so we have to be conscious of that as well. But there is no standard number of visits; we go as many times as we feel we need to or want to. Each establishment would get that standard 18 month visit then regardless of how many stars they have? Every regular entry that is in the guide. Although the stars get spoken about the most that’s a very small percentage of the guide. We’ve got over 2000 restaurants about 140 that have got stars, so those 140 are certainly visited more than once but every regular place that’s in our guide gets the 18 month visit. Is it solely about the food or do things like decoration and service play a part in the criteria for gaining a star? It is about the food and we can’t stress that enough, but places that are serious about their food don’t have a dodgy environment. It’s going to reasonably comfortable, it’s going to have good service. It hasn't got to be the full length tablecloths and an army of waiters; that’s where the dining scene has changed. That’s not really us. The chefs and the proprietors set the standard and the style of the operation but we’re in a different era now so dining has definitely changed, but it's ultimately about the food. That doesn't matter if it’s one, two, or three stars but I suppose traditionally three level places have in the past been quite elegant, formal and expensive but now that is changing, and has been changing for many years, certainly in Spain and Germany, and we’re seeing a bit more of it here. Is there anything that a restaurant can do to get on Michelin’s radar and to warrant a visit from an inspector?

Very much so, certainly in the first instance we’d ask them to write to us. We’ve got a pretty good system here of tracking down places in various ways, the inspectors that are out on the road as well as the office team. We get to know about places but sometimes if they are tucked away in the middle of the countryside we may not, but we like to pride ourselves on not having too many missed places when the guide comes out. We’d say to them to write to us and tell us that they’re there but first of all we want them to establish their business and look after the locals. We find that the guides will find them anyway. Every year all the existing places in the guide have a form sent out for them to update their details and we invite places to tell us when they’ve changed their menu or employed a different chef or feel something’s moved on. To prompt us that they are there but our system is pretty good so we have places ourselves on our radar that we are following from one year to the next...

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th September 2014

Interview with Rebecca Burr - editor of the Michelin Guide