The 2014 Michelin Guide was just been released and that is big news in France. (Michelin Guide to Restaurants.) National and local newspapers have been publishing articles about the restaurants that have earned or lost stars, the process of Michelin’s restaurant inspectors, the inspectors’ unpublished criteria, the growing number of women chefs on the list, and the state of fine dining in the world. (Food Buzz: Michelin Guide France 2014.)
It has been said that France anticipates the annual gastronomic “red guide” with its ratings the way the US looks forward to the Academy Awards. World renowned French chef Paul Bocuse, who has been honored by the Culinary Institute of America as Chef of the Century, once said, “Michelin is the only guide that counts.” French Chef Bernard Loiseau in 2003 committed suicide in part because of rumors that his restaurant was to be demoted from three-stars to two.
France now has 27 three-stars restaurants (one new addition this year), 79 two-stars restaurants (six new additions), and with the addition of 57 new restaurants for 2014 there are 504 one-star restaurants. (A Complete List: France’s New Michelin Star Diners.) For comparison, there are 10 three-stars restaurants in the US: 7 in New York, 2, in San Francisco, and 1 in Chicago. There are another approximately 230 two and one-starred rated restaurants also in the US. (The Michelin Guide: Making Top Chefs Reach For The Stars.) Japan actually has more three-stars restaurants than France with 28, a matter causing indignation with the Michelin Guide for many French.
The “star” ratings means:
* * * Three stars reward exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Worth a special journey.
* * Two stars denote excellent cuisine, skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality. Worth a detour.
* One star indicates a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard. A good place to stop on your journey.
I was grocery shopping at the local supermarché and was surprised to see a display of the red-covered Michelin Guides. Apparently the Michelin Guide isn’t a specialty text for “foodies” and gourmands but a required best-selling reference for everyday people in France.
Our local Michelin “starred” restaurants near Carcassonne are:
Parc, Two-stars, Chef Franck Putelet, 80 Chemin des Anglais, at the base of hill below the medieval le Cité de Carcassonne.
La Barbacane, One-star, Chef Jérôme Ryon, located in Hôtel de la Cité within the walls of the medieval citadel of le Cité de Carcassonne.
Le Domiane d”Auriac, One-star, Chef Philippe Deschamps, Route de Saint-Hilaire, at the edge of Carcassonne.
La Bergerie Aragon, One-star, Chef Fabien Galibert, 12 kilometers North of Carcassonne in the village of Aragon.
Le Puits du Trésor, One-star, Chef Jean-Marc Boyer, 12 kilometer north of Carcassonne in the village of Lastours. Above the village are of the few original Cathar castles left.
L’Ambrosia, One-star, Chef Daniel Minet, 8.5 kilometer north-west of Carcassonne.
So which Michelin rated restaurants have Tracy and I experienced in France? At this point none, although we are considering several for special occasions like our anniversary.
While lunches at many of these elite establishments are not outrageously expensive, dinners can have a substantial cost. La Barbacane’s lunch with wine and coffee is now priced at €36 each, about $100 total with today’s exchange rate. La Barbacane’s current seasonal dinner – Gnocchi Parisienne Gaude Mornay in Beaufort with cream and truffle stew Magnatum Pico; Black winter truffle salad, bread and truffle chicken jus; Scallops Jacques Breton with Mélanosporum truffle, potato Pays de Sault and cream leeks sauce “carbonara;” Veal shank confit and stuffed milk Orloff nuts, smoked ham and Comté old heart endive with truffle; Truffled cheese trolley; Pure Caribbean chocolate mousse and black truffles and light nuts nougat cream, and milk foam arlette – is €140 each, about $400 for the two of us. I’m not certain if beverages are included. Perhaps it’s like the old saying, “If you have to ask you can’t afford it.” A Michelin rated restaurant dinner is, for this retired couple on a fixed income, certainly a planned and carefully budgeted extravagance. In the mean time, we can admire culinary excellence from afar like admiring the latest model sports cars.
Good thing we love the take-out shawarma at the nearby Moroccan kebab restaurant while watching Anthony Bourdain and trying in the many small “holes-in-the-wall” cafes, brasseries, and bistros in Carcassonne.