What do Michelin tires have to do with fine dining? | Wolfgang Puck & Joachim Splichal
Michelin — the Oscars of fine dining. Those stars that fancy chefs court so dearly are handed out by Michelin — the tire company. Who knew that? I didn’t know that. Did you know that? Christopher Kain from Providence, Rhode Island writes, One guy who definitely did know that? Wolfgang Puck. We met up with him at Spago, his famous two-Michelin star restaurant in Beverly Hills. Help us get an idea how important and how much weight the Michelin star has. For me I think the guide Michelin is the the most important thing. The Michelin Guide really can make or break a restaurant. Are you aware of how the whole system began? Well, I think it really began with Michelin as a tire company in France. It started in 1896 with two brothers, André and Édouard Michelin. They had built a successful business selling rubber tires for velocipedes. No, not the dinosaurs. Those are those old-timey bikes with one big wheel and one small one. And now they wanted to get in on selling tires for a new invention — the automobile. The trouble was that there were only a few hundred automobiles in all of France at the time. So not the biggest market. So they say, “We don’t just need to sell tires, we need to sell people on the idea of driving!” So in 1900, the brothers published the first Michelin Guide. As driving got more popular, so too did the guide. Over the next several decades, Michelin began selling them and introduced a star system for restaurants. One star means: A good table in its community. Two stars mean: Worth a detour. And three stars mean: Worth a journey. Getting a Michelin star means accolades, recognition, esteem, but money? Depends. Chefs from all over the world have reported a 20 to 25 percent bump in business when they earn their first star. But it’s a bit of a dance with the devil because you can also lose stars. And studies have shown that losing one can cut business in half. I started crying when I lost my stars. It’s a very emotional thing for any chef. It’s like losing a girlfriend. You want her back. Gordon Ramsay says that he cried when he lost his star. He might be a very emotional guy. I don’t know. Well, I think it’s a sad thing. You know, as great as it is to get one, it’s even harder when you lose it. So we found out where the Michelin Guide came from, but is it really still the go-to guide for fine dining today? That depends on who you ask. Chef Joachim Splichal owns Patina, another Michelin-star restaurant in Los Angeles. How does life change after you get your stars? Your staff level is high, you have a sommelier, you have a million dollars in the wine cellar. You have to constantly invest into the restaurant. That sounds like it’s not worth it. I think when you’re a two- or three-star chef, you become a slave of your own business in a sense. A study by Cornell found that half of the Michelin-star restaurants they sampled were not profitable. And many chefs are turning away from the Michelin Guide altogether. Ninety percent of the public will not know what a Michelin book is because it’s not something that’s used that often in America. But they do know what Yelp is. How much does Yelp factor into your daily thoughts? Well, I read them every day. Every client who comes and has a meal is a food critic. So is Michelin the go-to guide for fine dining? In France, definitely. In New York? Possibly. Anywhere else? Not really. And while it may seem strange today for a tire company to be associated with fine dining, you gotta remember, the Michelin Guide started when only the wealthiest people on the planet owned cars. People who wore monocles, smoked cigars, drank fancy wine, ate expensive food… people who looked a lot like the Michelin man.