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Michelin Editor Interview

Chef Adam Bennett of the newly awarded Michelin Star Cross in Kenilworth

Chef Adam Bennett of the newly awarded Michelin Star Cross in Kenilworth

Today saw the launch of the much anticipated Michelin Guide 2015 – The rising ‘Stars’ and the fallers were announced by Michelin spot on 7.30 this morning to the across all media by the World organisation that is now over a Century old, and is as relevant today as it always has been.  Many of the regions’ Chefs breathed a sign of relief at retaining their stars, alongside some that received their first and others who went another year without. Michelin is surrounded in mystery as to who stars are awarded, and indeed who awards them – with inspectors maintaining anonymity where possible, and the new Editor, Rebecca Burr, not appearing in the guide, or even on Google images – interviews are also conducted over the phone.

James Day (JD), Editor of and supporter of the regions Chefs caught up with the new Editor of the Guide Rebecca Burr (RB) who chatted exclusively to James about this years Guide and the Midlands awards, and gave a nod to the trends which may influence next years winners and losers.

JD. How has today been – I guess you are relieved now you can relax from keeping everything secret?

RB. Yes it’s been quite a day – it’s a long time in the planning and towards publication date it always gets a bit manic – to keep the results secret until the last minute, and avoid leeks that have happened previously around the World, we have to be careful with sending out files and website updates with the onset of digital media, but this year we were delighted all went smoothly and the news was announced pretty much spot on 7.30 this morning via our new twitter address @MichelinGuideUK and to the media via emails. It was all very exciting. We do appreciate that the accreditations are very important to the restaurants and they can make a big difference to their businesses so we need to respect that – and also without them we would not have a guide so it’s important to establish that balance and ensure everyone finds out at once.

JD. We have the four Michelin Starred restaurants in Birmingham which have been retained, for Simpsons, Purnells’ Adams and Turners in Harborne, and of course the new one for Adam Bennett at The Cross in Kenilworth, Warwickshire which is overseen by Andreas Antona of Simpsons – have you eaten there?

RB. Yes I certainly have – the funny thing is the day I was in there Andreas was dining on a nearby table so it was funny to see him as I have met him a few times before – but he did not recognise me so my cover remained! Considering it was quiet some time ago I can still remember what I ate, which is a testament to Adam’s cooking and memorable style.

JD. The Cross was identified as a ‘pub’ in todays press release – Would you consider the style of Adam’s food to be pub food, or restaurant?

RB. It’s a fine line. The boundaries between the two have certainly merged over recent years – its very different to the likes of Tom Kerridge at the Hand and Flowers {Retained Two Michelin Stars}– and it’s in Adam’s own style, but balances well with the surroundings and keeps it relaxed. They’ve got it spot on, which is why we awarded them the star this year.

JD. With the movement towards more premium pub dining do you see more opportunity for the BIB Gourmands? {Definition:’Bibs’ (short for Bibendum – the name given to the Michelin Man!) highlights restaurants offering “good food at moderate prices”, called “Bib Gourmand”. Venues must offer menu items priced below £28 with wine for 3 courses. Bib (Bibendum) is the company’s nickname for the Michelin Man, its corporate logo for over a century.}

RB. The beauty of the ‘BIBS’ as you call them is they are a good reliable interpretation for good value modern cooking – strong flavours but great value venues offering consistently great value menus –  and although they aren’t an indication of Michelin Stars, they are an indication of an accessible offering to diners and very popular – more so on the Continent due to different style of restaurants, but the public is certainly embracing them more as they start to understand them. The new Michelin App in partnership with Book-a-Table will help highlight BIB venues and their location. We can also update prices in real time on the app too, so it’s right up to date.

JD. Do you find different areas in the UK that offer more value than others?

RB. Overall the UK is becoming much better value – when we have guests from around the World they comment on what great value some of the restaurants in the Capital are, and it is reflected round the UK – I think the recession helped with that and Chefs are now becoming more savvy by using the different cuts of meat and creating dishes with more flavor by using more diverse ingredients, with value vegetarian dishes  – which again is reflected in the increased in quality pubs within the guide. It’s not all about truffles and foie gras anymore.

JD. What are your thoughts on restaurants that offer discount deals – and use the Michelin brand to help encourage visits.

RB. We don’t frown upon these deals but restaurateurs need to be aware, as do the diners, that the balance needs to be struck on offering value to everyone, and not just someone on a deal who may be dining opposite someone who isn’t. But we are aware running restaurants these days can be tough and sometimes and customers need to be encouraged to dine out.

JD. The UK is now littered with opinions by the public on review websites, social media and blogs – do you embrace these or dismiss them?

RB. You are exactly right – everyone can now have an opinion of a dining experience – but these need to be subjective and accurate – this is why guides like Michelin are actually becoming more relevant as we have strict criteria which evolves over time and so by owning a Guide as a reference point, the diner can have an informed decision with all restaurants highlighted within, graded by inspectors who focus on the food, flavours and a clear benchmark. We don’t however look at the external reviews sites to inform our opinions, as you don’t often know who has actually left the reviews!

JD. Social media is also a major part of dining out these days – many chefs are tweeting and consumers – I note you launched your official Twitter account this week too @MichelinGuideUK – I was amused to see you had sent 3 tweets by Monday but had over 10,000 twitter followers. We tweet on behalf of some of our clients and believe me, that’s not a bad start! What are your plans for this?

RB. Michelin as a brand are lucky to have a loyal following, so we set this account up to keep in touch with the public and it will be the inspectors tweeting throughout the year, including myself, from all over the UK, to give a feel of what they are experiencing out in the field – to make Michelin more accessible and explain what we are doing – we won’t of course be indicating what we are going to award – but equally it is the inspectors who are tweeting and we don’t have a social media department or training – it will be us, tweeting so we will see how it all evolves over the year – it will certainly be interesting and very ‘organic’  in nature.

JD. One of the chefs who was awarded a star today originated from the pop-up culture, Isaac McHale who set up his Pop-up in Shoreditch and was awarded a Star for The Clove Club today. We also have Adams in Birmingham which was billed as a ’pop-up’ when opened, and was awarded their Star within their first year, and they are still there, with it being renewed in todays 2015 Guide – Another of our City Starred Chefs Richard Turner operated a true ‘one night only’ pop-up in a pub last year – Do you see the pop-up trend influencing current dining and do you envisage a time when you may award a star to a true pop-up that will only be there a year?

RB. Yes certainly. Michelin is about the food, not the story but interestingly these guys in London the ”Young Turks collective’ that refers to them, have had a loyal following and raw passion for food, and the new venture was credited with a Star down to their cuisine they are offering, and I guess that has been created from their pop-up experiences. We did nearly award a Star to a pop-up a couple of years back – but by nature of what they are, being very transient, you have to be mindful that Michelin is a annual guide and our readers want to be able to visit our recommended venues, so we need to ensure it is as up to date possible, and indeed there when they visit! Maybe as you suggest we will tweet about pop-ups if we come across them.

JD. In the Midlands we have a lot of young passionate Chefs who are considered by some, including their peers, to be at the same level of the Michelin Chefs – such as Brad Carter at Carters of Moseley who won the Good Food Guide Readers award only a few weeks ago – How do Chefs like Brad move towards the national accreditation such as Michelin?

RB. Chefs need to maintain their focus on their true passions – cook for their loyal customers and maintain their focus on the food and consistency. I have dined at Carters and they are doing a great job. Chefs should not chase guides and awards, they can follow through the feedback of our loyal readers of our guides and people like yourself who keep us up to date through being in the industry and trying new venues.

JD. And finally – Birmingham is fortunate to hold 4 Michelin Stars, with now six across the Central Midlands, where as other regions still have none – what do you think are the contributing factors to the region being so rich in accreditations?

RB. Birmingham does certainly have it’s fair share – and I think it is the diversity of the cuisine, the commitments of the diners and focus and consistency of the Chefs – having such a high benchmark means that they are constantly raising their own game which, year on year, creates improvements and of course accreditations follow.

JD. Thank You – I am sure you must be worn out with interviews today and relieved it all went smoothly, and no doubt need a large glass of wine, and maybe a meal out – I won’t ask you where you are going, but I am sure we will hear about your favourite new dining discoveries on Twitter over the coming year – thank you so much for your time.

Follow James Day on twitter @LeisureMarkLTD

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