Losing a star: the impact of being dropped from the Michelin Guide

The  Staff Canteen
Every year the release of the Michelin Guide is much anticipated by chefs and restaurants across the UK. Those who are already in the guide are keeping their fingers crossed that they are still part of the elite Michelin-starred club and those who are not, are hoping they have done enough to get their names on that list. This year 15 new restaurants became part of the Michelin gang but what about those who were given the boot? The Staff Canteen spoke to chefs who have experienced the disappointment and find out how they picked themselves up. star_inn_2_7049AP_0Not many chefs have experienced both the highs and the lows of Michelin and then still come back for more. Andrew Pern, chef owner of The Star at Harome, held a star for nine years before it was taken away in 2011. He then regained it in 2014. “We were on a bit of a mission to try and get it back,” explained Andrew. “Obviously we were thrilled to get it back last year but also we went up 60% on turnover and each month now we are averaging 22% more than the year before. “So it has a significant impact. It helps massively with staff morale, recruiting and people’s perceptions of what they are coming for – it’s a seal of approval.” Gaining a Michelin star is a massive milestone in any chef’s life so to have that taken away Andrew says was ‘twice as destroying’. But as he has proven, getting it back is achievable and he did this by throwing himself into the kitchen. He said: “Between me and Steve Smith my head chef, we never missed a shift! We gained the consistency again and we went back to square one, instead of a bigger team we did it ourselves and reaped the rewards. Sticking to what we knew was the best answer.” There were 13 deletions from the 2016 guide including Maze, Bon Appétit, Rasoi and Sienna. We spoke to Oliver Dunne owner of Bon Appétit ealier in the year and due to a change in focus he was expecting to lose his star.

>>> Read: Oliver Dunne, Cleaver East and Bon Appetit, Dublin

He said at the time: "Business-wise it’s been a really positive move, the negative side is come Oliver Dunne2October our Michelin star will be gone. But we knew that, we thought about it, and at the end of the day what’s the point of holding on to a Michelin star just so people can come for birthdays and anniversaries? "I worked incredibly hard to get there, I had it for nearly ten years and I don’t need it anymore. I’m confident enough in what I’m doing now. In saying that, it was an amazing thing to achieve and I’m very grateful to have been awarded it in the first place." Marcus Wilcox inherited the star from previous owner Russell Brown, he had a matter of months to get up to standard but Michelin didn’t think he was ready. Speaking to The Staff Canteen about the star when he opened Sienna in July, he said: “I don’t feel any more pressure and I’m trying not to put that pressure on myself. I’d rather get everything right and then go from there. “I’d prefer to be starting without the star but if I pulled it off obviously I’d be really chuffed. It would be a great achievement to come in and do that.”

>>> Read: We talk to Marcus Wilcox, the new owner of Michelin-starred Sienna Restaurant

marcus wilcox low resAndrew says it’s important ‘not to try too hard.’ And thanks to his stubbornness in wanting to get the star back both the restaurant and its customers have benefited. “When we lost it, we didn’t get feedback from the guide so we didn’t know which way to go,” explained Andrew. “So to get it back was a release - to know we were on the right track.” While Andrew found himself back in the guide for 2015, Gary Pearce, head chef at Ramon Farthing’s 36 on the Quay had the news that after 28 years the restaurant had lost its star. He took over from Ramon in 2012 and said: “It was a big decision for him to hand the helm to me but he was still here mentoring me through the process and working most days. He felt that maybe Michelin could have spoken with him or asked more about the transition taking place. “I personally was gutted and deflated because I felt partially responsible, but nevertheless I had Ramon and Karen, my wife and whole team’s full backing. From the other side it was a wakeup call and motivated me and the whole team to prove that we are worth it!”

>>> Read: Gary Pearce, head chef at Ramon Farthing’s 36 on the Quay, Hampshire

Holding a star for nearly 30 years is a huge achievement and to lose it you would expect the ripple effects to be devastating but Gary says it only really seemed to stop with customers who travelled to the restaurant because of the guide and on a positive, it also brought a new breed of clientele.gary2 low res Gary explained: “We noticed an influx of new customers - people who might feel intimidated by the guide coming to the restaurant for the first time and returning.” He added: “Initially reaction from the trade was surprise and customer’s reactions were mixed - some surprised, some knew about the transition so were not so shocked. Myself and the whole team felt disappointed. Business took a small hit because people do travel for the guide, but one year on, confidence is back in our product and we are going forward and continue progressing.” Gary agrees with Andrew, consistency is key and when picking themselves up after the news they looked at all aspects of the food, and service and made decisions to strengthen any weakness no matter how small. He has also continued with his own style and said: “Ramon has supported this with his experience giving me honest and constructive feedback on dishes and systems but overall we continue with developing style. We have not got objectives but to make sure our customers are happy and we are busy and if it will happen (being back in the Michelin Guide) one day it will be a gradual process.” It would be understandable if Gary had lost respect for Michelin after such a major blow but he says he ‘respects the guide and believes in most decisions they make’. “Of course they are influential in the trade but you cannot cook for them,” he said. “We cook for our customers and if later the star returns it will be for the right reasons.” food 4 low resBoth Gary and Andrew understand how this year’s chefs on the list of deletions will be feeling and they echo each other when they say ‘you have to stay strong’. Gary said: “My advice would be to just continue with your product. Obviously look at some aspects but if you were worth a star at some point, then not everything is wrong so assess what you were doing against what you are doing. A little analysis is healthy but keep strong and believe in yourself and your team and in what you are doing!”

>>> Read: Michelin Guide 2016: The list

By Cara Pilkington @canteencara
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th September 2015

Losing a star: the impact of being dropped from the Michelin Guide