Red Alert

Michelin New York City: Imperious interloper or authoritative voice of reason in a town of culinary dummkopfs? We asked several big-time chefs and restaurateurs to weigh in on the imminent arrival of the guide, which debuts next week with a grand unveiling at the Guggenheim. By whom would New York’s top talent rather be probed, criticized, and judged—Michelin’s mostly French “professionally trained inspectors” or Zagat’s “avid, educated” homegrown ballot-stuffers? Is a Michelin star superior to one from the Times? And what will they think of our fries?

Photo: Beatriz Da Costa

Mario Batali
chef, author, Food Network star, gelato-cart owner.
I think that the traditional Michelin three-star places are on the way out, particularly in France, where the cost of developing the required appointments can rarely be recouped by a traditional business model. It will be interesting to see who rates in New York; I think it will be important to European-born chefs—Jean-Georges, Ducasse, Ripert, Boulud, and less so for Bobby, myself, Valenti, and Colicchio.

Photo: Shimon & Tammar

Eric Ripert
chef-owner, Le Bernardin, French.
Michelin will bring prestige, but they have a challenge: Zagat is king here. It’s very practical; it’s small, you put it in your bag, you have the address immediately. Michelin is the newcomer, and the French are not very popular right now, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to come to New York and suddenly say, “Well, guys, you don’t have the level here.” But for many years, chefs have been secretly missing the validation of Michelin. You don’t want to look like a loser if you don’t get any stars.

Photo: Robert Di Scalfani

Anthony Bourdain
author, raconteur, television star, Les Halles chef-at-large.
I don’t even think we’ll be in the book—we’re not really cooking that caliber food at Les Halles that we’ve got to sweat Michelin. But I don’t think it will mean that much in New York. Of course, the three- and four-star French guys are very aware of the fact that it is important to Japanese tourists. It’s also a huge prestige issue with their pals back home. But given a choice of losing a star from the Times, and getting three from Michelin, I think a lot of people would be perfectly happy to hang on to their four Times stars and be misunderstood by the Evil French. The big question is who will get a top ranking: The thinking is that Ducasse is a shoo-in for three stars. If they don’t give it to Ducasse, it will just be a terrible slap. And if they don’t give three to Per Se, that’s really a huge turd in the punch bowl. If Per Se gets three, and Ducasse doesn’t, that’s a whole other political situation. At least that’s the girls’ talk—you know, when the chefs are all sitting around bitching and gossiping. As for Zagat, it’s devalued. It’s like, “Some say ‘delicious’; others say ‘smells like cat pee.’ ”

Photo: Fran Colin

Gray Kunz
Fastidious Swiss chef-owner Café Gray.
I think at this point, some reasoning is in order. Just the fact that I am responding means enough to welcome a new contender. To compare different guides or newspapers is nonsense since each has a different angle towards their readership. I am very pleased with the new Zagat-guide ratings; the Times has not been as favorable to us, but the proof is in the pudding, and we are as busy as can be.

Photo: Quentin Bacon

Danny Meyer
owner, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, the Modern, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve enjoyed using the guide for as long as I can remember while traveling in Europe. Particularly in its first year of publication, a Michelin star will represent nothing but upside for any restaurant. This year, the guide will award but not remove stars from any restaurant. Many will be helped, none will be hurt.

Photo: Michael Piazza

Tony May
owner, San Domenico.
The question mark is … will they adjust to New York guidelines or stick to the “French meter” used in all of their other guides. Once this question is settled, I believe they will rate the restaurants professionally, much closer to the Times’ standards than to the Zagat popularity guidelines. As for which top rating I’d rather have, I am greedy, I want them all.

Red Alert