At first I wasn’t sure if I was interviewing the director of the Michelin Guide or the next potential James Bond. Jean-Luc Naret is movie star handsome, suave, sophisticated and as beautifully appointed as many of the restaurants the guides cover. When I told him that he could answer “No Comment,” when asked a question which he didn’t want to respond to, he replied in his charming French accent, “What if instead I tell you how gorgeous you look today?” (Gotta tell you, it so worked for me, I couldn’t stop coming up with nosey, none-of-my-business questions.)
Jean-Luc is only the sixth director of the 106 year-old restaurant and hotel guide. Coming from a luxury hotel background, he was thrilled when they invited him to join the Michelin family, “After all, there are many hotels but only one Michelin guide. This is the best job imaginable.”
I asked if he was upset by all the grumblings that have erupted since the San Francisco edition was released earlier this week. Although all the debate and press reports have to be a publicist’s dream, Jean-Luc stressed that many people do not truly understand the international star rating system.
“Unlike a local newspaper review, where a restaurant can garner four stars and be considered one of the best dining experiences in the San Francisco area, we are not simply saying that you are the best in the Bay Area, but the best interntaionally. Michelin currently recognizes only 1000 one-star restaurants, 300 two-star restaurants, and 60 three- star restaurants. If a chef is disappointed because he ‘only’ got one star, instead he should think that he is listed as one of the best 1000 restaurants in the world.”
When I wanted details about the exciting life of a Michelin inspector, he emphasized that it was a really hard job, both mentally and phsysically, and if an inspector isn’t passionate about food, he or she will burn out. He cites the story about one veteran inspector in Europe who celebrated his 35th year working with the guide. When Jean-Luc asked him what he would like as a reward for his many years of service (a trip, perhaps theater tickets) the inspector replied that what he really wanted was for the two of them to indulge in a three-star dinner, where he wouldn’t have to write a report and could just sit back and appreciate the meal. They dined at Guy Savoy in Paris.
Now, I’m just going to sit back and wait for the Michelin reality show to air. The announcer will say, “And in this corner of the ring we have America’s only double three-star Michelin winner,Thomas Keller, squaring off against France’s Alain Ducasse, who has also won the highly coveted three-star rating not once, but twice, weighing in at, oh, never mind.
By Janice Nieder aka Dining Diva
Photos by Patty Burness