Michelin Stars: From perfection to conspiracy

Turki Aldakhil
Turki Aldakhil
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I usually leave my old friends with a fixed date to take me away from work pressure whenever I visit the countries they live – although our chats always include talk about work.

Some see me in the café where they usually sit. Another one of my generous friends whom I visited years ago took me to his mother’s house and when I ate from the food which I found delicious and couldn’t stop eating from, this specific dish made by his mother – may God prolong her life – became a habit which I don’t hesitate accepting an invitation for. Sometimes I find myself telling him before the others that I am visiting so I guarantee my renewed old date.

Among these are a friend I don’t forget and who told me: “Close your eyes and place your finger anywhere on the menu of my favorite restaurant, and I bet that there’s nothing you won’t like!” He did this over and over again, and he was very confident. I ordered two plates and I found myself drowning in delight. Then it was time for dessert. There were only three options on the menu. I closed my eyes and wished that when I open them, I can taste all three. When we finished this strange dining experience, he said: “Do not thank me. You can do this with any friend on condition that you select a restaurant from the list of restaurants which are ‘worthy of a special trip.’”

I now confess to this latter friend that what he said to me cost me a lot later as first of all I spent my entire day looking into what he meant until I found it in the restaurants which have three Michelin stars. Ever since, I am like the truck drivers whom brothers Andre and Edouard relied on to collect data at the beginning of issuing their guide as they wrote in the first edition: “We cannot do anything without the help of drivers, and we can do everything with them.” These are the Michelin Brothers, the most famous tire manufacturers in the world.

At the time, there were only 3,000 cars in France, and the two brothers were thinking of a way to make roads more tempting for drivers so they relied on truck drivers as a credible source to evaluate restaurants in nearby roads and cities. The guide which made roads more tempting for drivers was free, until one of the brothers found a way to add a fourth leg to a table that’s missing a leg!

He swore that the guide will not be free anymore and he actually laid out a basic rule in the world of marketing: People do not respect what’s free. If you can sell your merchandise with loss, go ahead. Never, ever present it for free to others!

The guide which derived its power from truck drivers became the most important tourist guide which the best chefs in the world brag about its stars. It’s reason enough to collapse in tears if one loses a single star like what happened to Gordon Ramsay, whose restaurants have a total of 16 Michelin stars, as he wiped away his tears as he spoke of the pain of losing one star and said it was a very painful loss that resembles losing someone you love.

Some may say I am exaggerating this but one of the reasons that one of the most famous chefs in the world committed suicide few years ago – according to analysts – was losing a Michelin star. This huge pressure which these stars put on chefs is much more than the pressure which celebrities face during the Oscars ceremony!

Who said only Arabs believe in conspiracy theories?!

Turki Aldakhil

What makes the theory that chef Benoît Violier, 44 years old, committed suicide under the pressure of possibly losing a Michelin star is that another famous French chef shot himself in the head after his restaurant lost two stars that same year.

The Michelin Guide, however, is accused of being bias to French restaurants and this conspiracy theory is spearheaded by the Americans. In 2014, one restaurant in Chicago got three stars, four restaurants got two stars and 20 restaurants got one star. The evaluation seems ordinary but then you find out that the competition was among 500 restaurants in one city!

Like many others, I thought that people ate to live until I traveled a lot and realized that this truth in luxurious countries is very different. Some people actually fulfill the wish of the Michelin Guide and go on a special trip for a unique dining experience in a faraway restaurant thus confirming the theory that they live to eat!

I have no doubt that humanity came a long way beginning with uncooked food and up until the decisive and major phase when man discovered fire. Since fire is a source of warmth, it’s also a good friend of the hungry. Ever since man began to cook, the size of his jaw began to decrease, and ever since we began pasteurizing and boiling milk, we became less fearful and fonder of all forms of milk.

The fireplace did not know that one of the fanciest and most profitable jobs in the world today will rely on cooking and that generations will cross roads and find time to make evaluations – for free – hence honoring a chef with a star that puts him on the map and that one single complaint can end the life of a famous chef.

A few years ago, I was accompanying King Salman – at the time he was crown prince – on a trip to Japan. It was a huge banquet on which representatives of the most important categories of the Japanese people sat across. It was neither strange nor surprising – after I had spent a long time on the Michelin Guide – to see chefs sitting on the other side of the table alongside politicians and economists!

Last week, I was in Amsterdam where the International Broadcasting Convention was held. I went to a hotel, and one of the employees told me the good news, as if his baby was just born, that one of their restaurants received a Michelin star. I later asked an employee in the same hotel where the restaurant that got the star is. She almost broke in tears as she told me it was taken away from them. She then justified why and said it’s because a conspiracy was weaved against them to withdraw the Michelin star from them.

Who said only Arabs believe in conspiracy theories?!

This article is also available in Arabic.


Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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