Interview with Rebecca Burr: editor of the Michelin Guide (part 2)

The  Staff Canteen

Here's part two of our interview with the editor of the Michelin Guide where Rebecca discusses being at the forefront of change, remaining on top of the industry and it never being a more exciting time to eat.

Read part one here.Michelin Logo Cropped

  Do you agree with the belief that Michelin has a secretive air surrounding it and can be seen to be as elite? The philosophy has always been that we’re making a guide for our readers and we want to go to places unrecognised, have a typical experience, pay our own bills and remain independent; so the nature of that type of work is fairly secretive. In terms of it being seen as elite I think the chefs would really support the way we work, that there is this discretion, that we’re not there to tell them how to run their business. But as far as being secretive - we want to make a very good selection in our guide for our loyal readers that are spending their hard earned money wanting to go to a reliable place. It’s secretive because we go about our business doing work and we’re not really involved in the media things that go on. Last year's Michelin GuideI think there has been this image of the guide coming from France being very formal and over 100 years ago places were far more exclusive whereas now it’s much more accessible and Michelin have been at the forefront of recognising these changes but there is this still slight air. Do you think that the UK is behind the rest of Europe as we only have 3 Michelin-starred restaurants? There aren’t as many in the UK but the ones we’ve got are very good and they work very hard to maintain that award. There are not many 3 stars in the world as that is a world class level and the business has got to right and got to be ready to be on that world platform and accept people from all over the world. We as British have got to make sure that the business is ready for it and it has reached its peak. Certainly some of the restaurants that we have in the two star selection at the moment are still establishing themselves; so it certainly isn’t that we are lagging behind but the expectations are so enormous in the industry that I don’t think people realise how much it takes to run that operation. I think we ought to be congratulating the ones that have got it rather than feel that we are falling behind, as that’s very much not the case. We asked our readers what they would like to know about the guide and we had a question about the Bib Gourmand.
Alex Wrethman commented: “All premise costs rise year on year (rent/rates/elec/gas etc), minimum wage goes up every year which means considerable increase in wage cost for restaurants. I just wonder what the thinking is with Michelin not raising the ceiling each year, at least in line with inflation?”
It’s something we review every year ‘Should we be putting the Bib Gourmand’s limit up?’ and it has been £28 for quite a few years. But it’s something that we discussed as a team and we seem to still be finding them [restaurants charging £28], particularly in London. The Bib Gourmand has changed quite naturally and organically throughout the year by the type of places that have it now. It’s always meant to be completely different, it’s not a small star, it’s about good value, moderate prices and good fresh seasonal cooking.Bib When you can find places in the centre of London that can offer that at and still well below the price limit we’re reluctant to put it up. We understand though that £28 x two with a bottle of wine and service etc, is still not a cheap night. We take polls between the inspectors and ask if they’ve heard about the rents, rates, salaries and if we should change it and apart from a couple of places way up in Scotland we haven’t heard that. People have been much more resourceful with cheaper cuts and doing a lot more so they’re putting a lot more work in it put still being able to offer it as a good price; so we feel we don’t want to change that limit at the moment. What are the vast changes you’ve noticed since your time at being at the guide? It’s the industry that’s changed, the chefs and the restaurants dictate the style of operation. We’re observers of what they are doing and we have noticed a change but we have been at the forefront of that for many years, and I don’t think it’s ever been a more exciting time to eat. We’d like to see a bit more of a spread from London, certainly London is envied by many of my colleagues all around the world because we’ve got this great diversity and cross section of places to go and eat in. tom kerridgeCertainly the pubs have been fantastic and we’ve got well over a dozen restaurants with a star in a pub and we always wanted that to happen. We didn’t want them to be serving pigeon and foie gras but we wanted good fish and chips, but if they are part of the Home Counties and that’s what their locals want then they should do that. Our philosophy has always been the same, and it’s been very successful: we pay our own bills we employ serious, professional, experienced inspectors and we invest them by sending them all over the world and building up their vast bank of experiences. When we awarded two stars to The Hand and Flowers we knew that Tom Kerridge was really at the forefront; he really was the best chef in a pub. I think others have followed with that decision and I’m very happy that we made it. With the rise of food blogs and review sites is there still the same amount of need for the guide? If anything I think it’s become more relevant as people lead busier lives. It’s great there are some fantastic amateurs out there, people know an awful lot about food and we never underestimate that. We have always received correspondence from our readers and whether that’s been in an old fashioned letter or the questionnaire that we put in our guide, they’re always acknowledged by us; but it’s the inspector’s experiences that really rule the day and the decisions we make in our guide. I think it’s become a little bit confusing out there and some people can say it’s fantastic about a particular establishment whilst others say it was dreadful and people don’t really know which way they are going. With our guide they know that places can’t pay to go in, that we are completely independent and we change our selection every year. Top+10+Reasons+You+Should+Start+a+Food+Blog Whilst there may be a feeling that an annual publication can be slightly out of date we know that these businesses are established and they’ve reached a level. So if anything the guide has become more popular as people want this instant decision and this reliability rather than sifting through so many comments. This must be the same with social media? We’re going to be launching Twitter from an inspector’s point of view before the guide comes out. It’s already been established with our colleagues in America and the French site started up in February just before their launch; so it’s going to be quite new for us. It’s been called for for quite some time now but this is purely from the inspectors’ point of view, this isn’t a corporate site. This will be a bit of a balance as we will be talking about places that aren’t in the guide, plus existing places and talking about the whole of the country. So we will have some input on that side of things which will again assist our readers even more. All of the guides are available on the internet but we will still produce paper guides but I’m sure our entry into Twitter is just going to help us grow and grow. The Michelin Guide 2015 is out on the 25th September.

We also looked at the impact of Michelin stars on a business - have a read here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th September 2014

Interview with Rebecca Burr: editor of the Michelin Guide (part 2)