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Culinary Documentary ‘Three Stars’ Shows How Chefs Play the Michelin Game

Streaming recommendations for the weekend, plus a roundup of the week’s entertainment news

Giovanni and Nadia Santini inspect the produce from the garden for their restaurant, Dal Pescatore.
Amazon Video/Three Stars

This post originally appeared on August 31, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Welcome to the Friday right before Labor Day weekend. This is traditionally a time to celebrate the last stretch of summer by doing things like hosting a barbecue, catching a sporting event, or reconnecting with your post-apocalyptic style tribe in the middle of the desert. If at any point this weekend, you decide you want a break from all that fun in the sun (or if you’re someone like me who actually abhors the heat and FOMO associated with summertime), you should consider setting sail on a sea of televised entertainment.

Here are recommendations for a documentary, a choice sitcom episode, and a travel show to scope out between now and next Tuesday.

The perils of star chasing

Amazon Video/Three Stars

Fall is the most exciting time to be a food fanatic. It’s the season when big chefs roll out their new projects, when the networks drop their most exciting TV shows, and when Michelin releases its guides to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Despite the fact that these lists are sometimes completely baffling, the Michelin rankings — one to three stars, awarded to typically high-end restaurants — are obsessively tracked by international gourmands. And for anyone who wants a primer on Michelin madness, the 2010 documentary Three Stars offers a compelling look at the people whose success and failure depends on these mercurial rankings.

The film visits nine high-end kitchens around the world — including Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain; Jean-Georges in New York City; and Le Meurice in Paris — to see how chefs play the Michelin game. It’s clear that all of these teams, especially those at restaurants in remote locales, rely on the accolades the guide provides to fill their dining rooms night after night. But many of the chefs express shades of resentment toward their symbiotic relationship with Michelin. “It would be a professional disgrace if our guests only came here for the stars,” the soft-spoken Tokyo chef Hideki Ishikawa says at one point in the film.

For all its bluster and tireless self-promotion, the Michelin Guide has never been very good at articulating why restaurants gain or lose stars from year to year. “I don’t think anyone apart from the big bosses at Michelin can tell the difference between a restaurant with two stars and one with three,” admits Antonio Santini, the owner of the traditional-leaning three-star restaurant Dal Pescatore in Lombardy, Italy. Chef René Redzepi, whose Copenhagen restaurant Noma held two stars before its recent revamp, has a different theory. “In Copenhagen 10 years ago it was called the toilet guide, because depending on how luxurious your toilets were, the bigger chance you had to receive a star,” he explains.

Over the years, a few fed-up chefs have even formally severed ties with the guide to free themselves from the pressure. French chef Olivier Roellinger gave up his three Michelin stars a decade ago, and hasn’t looked back since. “I’m done with it, and the best thing is, so are my guests,” Roellinger remarks from the stately dining room of his seaside restaurant in Brittany.

Three Stars doesn’t paint Michelin in a particularly favorable light, but it does make you admire the work of the restaurant teams. Director Lutz Hachmeister picked a good mix of chefs who all seem like sincere, hard-working people carving out their own culinary niches. The cinematography is a bit shabby compared to something like Chef’s Table, but the doc works because it manages to cover a lot of different angles in the span of 90 minutes.

Three Stars is available to stream on Amazon Video (for free if you have a Prime account), and it’s also available on iTunes.

Streaming recommendations du jour

The Good Place/Netflix

The Good Place, ‘The Burrito’

Watch it on: Netflix, iTunes, Google Play

The gist: This episode of ABC’s food pun-obsessed afterlife comedy involves protagonists Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Jason (Manny Jacinto), and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) encountering a mysterious burrito on their trip through the netherworld. At first, they think it’s a test — should they eat it or not? — and then they wonder if it’s actually a sentient being that will judge them in some way. As they soon learn, the burrito in question is actually the lunch of an ancient, omniscient being named Gen (played by Maya Rudolph), who will actually determine their fate.

If you haven’t checked out this acclaimed comedy yet, “The Burrito” is a great place to dive in. Starting this week, all of Season 2 is now available to stream on Netflix.

Bizarre Eats: Delicious Destinations, “Las Vegas”

Watch it on: Amazon Video, iTunes

The gist: Andrew Zimmern’s newest Sin City itinerary involves a seafood buffet, the late Joël Robuchon’s mashed potatoes, duck-topped khao soi, and mobster-approved veal parmesan. Although Zimmern no longer travels to each city to film this series — he narrates each episode, and appears remotely — this Bizarre Foods spinoff is still compulsively watchable and way more informative than most other basic cable travel shows. The formula is such a hit that the Travel Channel just ordered up a staggering 52 more episodes, suggesting that someday soon, Delicious Destinations might replace Triple D as the food-focused travel show that is seemingly always on everywhere, all the time.

In other entertainment news…

  • The new season of The Great British British Baking Show skipped PBS entirely and is now available exclusively in the U.S. on Netflix. Season 5 (the UK Season 7) is the first installment to feature the new lineup of hosts and judges. Mel, Sue, and Mary are out. Prue, Sandi, and Noel are in. Paul Hollywood — aka nobody’s favorite host — is still doing his thing. If you’re confused by the lineup, here’s a handy guide to everything you need to know.
  • Save the Girls, a new indie comedy about a Hooters-esque breastaurant, is getting excellent reviews. Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson writes, “Starting out as a workplace comedy featuring a sparkling female ensemble, the movie — set mostly over a single day — morphs into an affecting, startlingly insightful depiction of the bone-weary work of being a woman in a man’s world.”
  • Important question: Did your favorite British dame make it into the forthcoming documentary Tea With the Dames? Two of mine did (Judi Dench and Maggie Smith).
  • Fun-loving late night bro Jimmy Fallon picked up a random table’s tab at pricey Hamptons hot spot Il Mulino this week.
  • There’s only one Blockbuster store left in America, and now it has its own beer.
  • Joe Swanberg’s Netflix series Easy, about a bunch of artisans and intellectuals in Chicago, was just renewed for its third and final season. The show has a great plot about a craft brewery.
  • And finally, one reason to go see Jersey Shore star Pauly D spin records (as if you really needed one) is that he sometimes showers the crowd with cannoli filling.

Have a great weekend, and if you want to impress guests at a Labor Day feast this weekend, consider making Shackburgers using the official Shake Shack recipe.

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