Undercover with the Michelin Guide

In light of two famed Italian chefs turning in their Michelin stars (with a French chef doing the same a year ago) because they were “tired of having to please inspectors” and after five years the New York Michelin guide has not replaced the New York Time’s food reviews or Zagat and Yelp, for that matter, as the de facto food arbiter, the venerable French dining guide has decided to relaxed its standards to give Americans a better idea of how their reviews are formed.

A writer for The New Yorker accompanied an undercover inspector to the three star (there are only 81 three-star restaurants in the world with 26 in France, 11 in Tokyo, etc.) Jean Georges for a meal.

As a precondition of our interview, I was told that certain details of the inspector’s personal life would be obscured—or not divulged to me at all. When I asked her name, the inspector laughed nervously. “No,” she said. “Let’s not even say it. Make something up.”

I suggested the first thing that came to mind. “Maxime?”

Naret smiled, and then, with a soupçon of extra secrecy, began referring to her as M.

Maxime is a New Yorker. She said that speaking to me about her work felt “surreal.” “We spend all our time not letting people know who we are,” she said, but admitted that she had told her husband what she does for a living. “He’s an attorney; he knows all about confidentiality.” For most others, she keeps her occupation vague. “We try not to lie,” she said. “You say you’re ‘in publishing,’ something like that.”

The waiter, a young man in a dark suit, handed us menus. I asked Maxime how she chooses what to order.

“You’re looking for something that really tests a number of quality ingredients and then something that’s a little complex, because you want to see what the kitchen can do,” she said. “We would never order something like a salad. We rarely order soup.” She decided to try the foie-gras brûlée, “although I usually avoid it, because of the calories.”

If you’re interested in food, reviews or the process of how anything secretive works, it’s a long piece but well worth the time.

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