It's the eve of the Bay Area's 2014 Michelin Guide official release, and we had a chance to chat with the anonymous Michelin chief inspector in charge. Here's what the inspector had to say about changes for Quince, State Bird Provisions and Frances, and what it takes to make the list.
What are the most important elements of a Michelin-starred restaurant? What do you look for? Well, Northern California makes it pretty easy to find Michelin stars. You're really spoiled there. One of the most important criteria is the quality of the product, and as you know the quality of your products there is incredible. Another one of the most important criteria is the technique of the kitchen, which of course you have a lot of very well-trained chefs who execute a lot of consistency in their kitchen. And then there's the creativity and the personal expression. A lot of these chefs in the Bay Area are extremely creative and are expressing a very unique point of few.
State Bird Provisions earned their first star this year. What can you say about what went into that decision? Oh, it's so exciting. It's a ton of fun, I have to say. The food is amazing, and its really creative and the presentation is unique, you know with the dim sum carts and you can see all the plates coming around, so then it kind of speaks to what you're feeling in the moment. And of course they have the menu list that you can order from, but with that presentation you might order something you might not ordinarily think of. And they have this great contrast of some more contemporary dishes, some more creative interpretations of rustic dishes. It's just a ton of fun, and obviously they have the criteria: they have terrific quality product, it's very solid technique. It was one of my favorite meals this year. I'd go back there on my own in a heartbeat.
Quince jumped to two stars this year. What are they doing differently? Well, I wouldn't say differently. To go from one to two, or two to three, we're usually monitoring restaurants over time, so the inspectors go a number of times over each year. And even this year there are a number of places we're watching for the next edition to potentially be new two stars or three stars, so it's kind of a progression over time. At Quince, Michael Tusk is really elevating his game year over year, and we watched this trend of things going up year over year and this past year we really felt it was at that solid two star level. I think he's just kind of explored his creative expression. Quince has been open for a number of years, and what the cuisine was in the early year is different from what it is today. His creative expression has just evolved at a much higher level, and he's really sourcing some interesting products, and he's doing some very creative presentations. His signature is the pastas, and even those have evolved in a way that's really exciting to watch. And it's a lovely place. It's notably gracious, they're so warm and friendly. It's that contrast you love to see where you get that two star cuisine in a really pleasant setting.
Frances dropping from one stars to zero. What happened there? Yeah, we're really disappointed about that. Frances was a really exciting star the first year that we awarded it, and it's the type of place we love to find a star at, because it's small and it's local. But what we do expect of Michelin star restaurants is for them to perform consistently over the course of a year, and there were a number of inconsistent meals over the course of the last two years. It seemed like something was a little off there. But that being said, we will follow it very closely this year and truly hope that they'll regain their star for the next edition. It's not once it's done it's done. We keep following a place and they can lose it and get it back. Nothing's written in stone.
Are you the person who gets to call and deliver the news? We do call the new stars and we congratulate them, and we call every single restaurant that's being awarded one, two or three Michelin stars. It's really exciting to get a new star, but it's just as commendable to maintain your star year after year. Often we try to gather up as many people as we can in the room, because some of the reactions are pretty noteworthy. There are a few people who yell at us, so it's not all good, but for the most part the reactions are really really amazing. People are very excited. There are some chefs who you can imagine express their excitement with a good degree of profanity. There are some chefs who get their entire team on speaker phone so that they can all receive the congratulations. I wish we could tape them and somehow share them because some of them are pretty priceless.
Did you have any big surprises this year? State Bird was a big surprise. Obviously we've been watching them since they opened, which hasn't been that long now. That was a big surprise because it was so distinctly different from anything else going on. In addition we're really impressed by some of the existing two stars, whether it be Benu, or Coi, or Saison. We've had some really exciting meals at those restaurant. You're not finding that type of thing in other parts of America, and its always exciting to see something truly unique and representative of the local culture.
Have you observed any trends or notable shifts in fine-dining scene here? I think that there has been an evolution towards a very distinctive San Francisco, Bay Area style, that's quite contemporary and creative but still focused on keeping the product true to what it is. It's keeping the ingredient, whether it's a fruit or a vegetable or a protein, true to what it is, but interpreted in a really creative way. It's nice to still be able to enjoy what's on the plate.
· Michelin Guide 2014: State Bird Gets One Star, Quince Earns Two [~ ESF ~]
· The Michelin Guide 2014, Mapped! [~ ESF ~]