After taking a break from bestowing its coveted (and sometimes resented) stars and recommendations last year because of the pandemic, the French tire company Michelin has decided it’s time to start recommending and awarding restaurants again. Starting next week, Michelin announced a “Still Serving” virtual series to — over the following three weeks — reveal awards and its 2021 restaurant guides to Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York on its Instagram. Michelin also plans on releasing a guide to California later this year.
Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of the guides, told the New York Times that most of the ratings were based on inspectors’ previous experience at the restaurants, before things like indoor dining limitations and other COVID-19 changes were put in place. The Times also notes “fewer than 100 of the restaurants Michelin might have included have permanently closed,” likely because Michelin typically focuses on higher-end restaurants with stronger financial lifelines. According to the National Restaurant Association, 110,000 restaurants around the country, about 17 percent total, have closed either temporarily or for good.
While the 2021 guide typically would have been released last fall, Michelin waited to allow restaurants more time to reopen. “If anything we were benevolent as to the selections,” said Poullennec. “We were impressed with their incredible achievement throughout the crisis.” Inspectors reportedly did not evaluate takeout food, and instead dined at the restaurants when it was available, presumably meaning that restaurants without in-person dining were not considered. The chief inspector for North America also told the Chicago Tribune that the overall criteria stayed the same, and that “Michelin inspectors evaluate the quality of products, the harmony of flavor, the mastery of the techniques and flavors, the personality of the chef and the consistency between visits.”
Michelin will be awarding stars, its slightly more affordable Bib Gourmand picks, “Plates,” special awards, and — for the first time in the U.S. — green stars to restaurants that meet certain sustainability standards. Poullennec says he hopes the guide serves as a way to highlight restaurants still in business, and to support the industry. However, some have argued that forcing restaurants to endure criticism and the awards selection process during the pandemic would only do harm, as most restaurants aren’t operating at their preferred level. For instance, the James Beard Foundation canceled its chef and restaurant awards, saying “the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle.”
The Washington D.C. Bib Gourmand picks will be released April 20, with star selections to follow two days later. Chicago and New York announcements are coming in the following weeks. And as for what the starry landscape could look like, anything goes. Michelin recently awarded one star to Behind, which was only open for 20 days over the summer. As James Hansen put it at Eater London, “it is extremely, extremely unusual, to put it mildly, to award a star that quickly, and even more unusual to do so with multiple inspections in such a short time period.”
Get ready for some drama!