Michaeline: Gold Stars

The Stars tarot card with woman pouring water from two pitchers to nurture fertility of the earth.

How do you feel about gold stars? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Guardian (here) had a story about a Michelin chef with three stars who asked to be removed from the guide, and it got me to thinking about recognition and standards that come with it.

The report focused on the fact that surprise Michelin inspections could happen at any time, two or three times a year. And yes, that would be nerve-wracking – if you were a chef who cared about awards and recognition. If, on the other hand, you only cared about the food leaving your kitchen, it seems to me that the inspections, with their inherent judgements about “Is this good enough? Is this as good as it was?” would lose a lot of their power.

But who can be such a compartmentalized person? I’m sure they exist, and they may or may not be happy. Most of us, though, like a little outside confirmation that we are doing a good thing.

On top of that, art is often made better when an artist gets good feedback. Also, trying to push boundaries so that consumers of art are still amazed or at least entertained can be a good thing. Those consumers might be regular people who come to a restaurant or visit an exhibition or buy a book, but they also include critics. Critics who can be consumed by their own visions of what “art” should be, or critics who have a broad overview of the entire field and can make helpful comparisons.

Michelin stars or gold stars of any kind come with baggage, and it’s part of being an artist (or even a good consumer) to use those gold stars with care. There are some questions we must be asking ourselves about the star-givers. Why are they qualified to give stars? Do stars expand one’s fan base? Do stars attract a super-critical sort of fan who can poison our feelings about the art? Do the stars inspire us, or do they make us worry about our future output?

The balance is delicate – it’s like walking on a curb. The safe sidewalk is right over there, and the whizzing cars are on the other side. Walking the edge makes for a more interesting walk, I think. But it’s not for everyone. There are those who like to dodge traffic, and others who are perfectly happy on the sidewalk.

The big thing is to walk the walk, if you are a creative person. Just walk it in the place you feel most energetic and happy.

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Gold Stars

  1. I admire the chef for wanting to return his Michelin stars. Three stars is the highest accolade. For the diner it brings a guarantee of a gastronomic experience of the highest quality, for the restaurant a guaranteed stream of custom and the ability to charge high prices, but to my mind it rewards the perfection of craft in a very narrow window. The tables must be a certain way, with white linen and approved glassware and formal service. If an inspector eats the same dish on two separate occasions, months apart, it must be exactly the same. Often these restaurants will spend years perfecting a signature dish or two. They may tweak it, but the core menu might not change very much for years and years.

    It’s fun to visit this kind of stellar establishment once in a while for a special occasion, but if I could find a three-star Michelin chef cooking in a more relaxed way, with more freedom and informality, I think I’d want to eat at his place as often as I could afford it. I have a feeling the food would be more interesting and the experience more rewarding, for the chef and for me.

    I can imagine there are parallels for anyone whose creative work earns major commercial success. Authors, musicians, artists, chefs–continue to give your fans what you know they love, or branch out and experiment, knowing they may not come with you? Exactly as you say, the only right answer is: walk the walk in the place you feel most energetic and happy.

    • Exactly right. There’s comfort in perfecting a signature “dish,” but many of us might want to mix up our writing, even if we continually write our core stories that speak to our deepest values. As for those star-givers, well. They might want to develop a sense of humor.

    • I did not know that about the “dish that must be the same”. I suppose it makes sense from the Michelin standpoint, but from the creative standpoint? Urgh. Let’s apply that, to say, movies. Movies are great for a director, because one-and-done, so to speak. They can move on to new fields. And they are great for two kinds of customers (if they are any good). The newcomer can enjoy them, and nowadays, there are zillions of English speakers who will be “new” to the movie. And, some people (me! me!) have comfort movies that they enjoy over and over again — there’s a lot of joy in discovering new depths and niches to old material.

      But the Michelin star system? Sounds like being trapped in the “Cats” musical. First year, it’s exciting and an honor. But after the 20th year? Must be terribly humdrum.

      Do the Michelin stars go to the chef or the restaurant? If new-chef comes in and makes the same old dish to the same old exacting standards, do they get to keep the stars?

      I’m glad there’s a Michelin system out there, but I’m also glad there are people who ignore it.

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