Get ready, San Diego; Michelin has come to town.
California is known for its farm-to-table cuisine and abundance of fresh seafood.
It started 100-plus years ago in France with Andre and Edouard Michelin tipping off motorists where to road trip to find the country’s culinary delights and mechanics. Since, the Michelin Guide has spread into 30 countries with 32 editions, and its coveted stars can redefine a chef’s career or catapult a restaurant to its pinnacle of success, requiring reservations to be booked months in advance. Humorous to think that all this fine-dining fuss resulted from a clever effort to sell more tires. Since 2007, the San Francisco Bay Area (including wine country) has had its own guide, while a short-lived Michelin Guide Los Angeles was published in 2008 and 2009, and failed after two years, with Michelin decrying that “the people in Los Angeles are not real foodies”—which stirred a little heat in kitchens across the city. Now, Michelin is back in a big way with the United States’ first statewide guide after Visit California’s destination partners expressed interest in the idea. Ultimately, Visit California footed the estimated $600,000 in costs to expand Michelin’s presence throughout the entire state.
Wine country is fertile breeding ground for top-notch chefs.
“California’s culinary scene is unrivaled, and Michelin’s presence is a global badge of credibility,” says Caroline Beteta, Visit California’s president & CEO. “We ultimately chose to invest in the production of a statewide guide as part of our ongoing culinary initiatives, which inspire travelers to visit the state.”
While some may scoff at this hefty price tag, California is not alone in paying high dollar, as Singapore, South Korea and Thailand are all estimated to have paid fees to enlist Michelin’s presence and guides. The premiere Michelin Guide California covers San Francisco, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange County, Sacramento, Santa Barbara and—drum roll, please—San Diego. Secret inspectors have been busy rating restaurants throughout the state for over a year for its June 3, 2019, launch and, in addition to the sought-after stars, Michelin inspectors will dole out Bib Gourmands (honoring high-quality meals for $40 or less) and entry-level Michelin Plates to restaurants serving good food.
But the question arises when it comes to the star-rating system, as Michelin’s criterion seems shrouded in mystery. In the past, Michelin stars tended to fall upon refined white-tablecloth dining with service and refinement on par with the cuisine. There’s no denying San Diego leans more toward casual elegance, even flip-flop fine dining, and, here, innovative starworthy food isn’t always found in a marble palace or oceanfront jewel box. But, then again, street vendors in Japan have been awarded stars and Michelin’s international director, Gwendal Poullennec, has said, “Michelin recognizes California as a booming culinary destination that is setting the dining trends for the future.” [A statewide edition] “will enable Michelin to extend its reach to new areas and, in doing so, engage with a broader audience of foodies who love the high-quality, laid-back dining scene.”
A couple enjoys Oak Farm Vineyards in Lodi, California.
And now that San Diego is in the running, is it a coincidence that Michelin-starred chefs started popping up recently in town, like chef Akira Back, whose restaurants range from Beverly Hills to Bangkok, and is now opening a high-design, modern Japanese and sushi concept in the Gaslamp? Or that Il Dandy’s Michelin-starred father and son team, chefs Antonio and Luca Abbruzzino, have descended upon Bankers Hill? Perhaps not. And lucky us.
But at the end of the day, controversy and questions aside, as Jeune et Jolie’s chef Andrew Bachelier says, “Michelin coming to San Diego is a really big deal. For a lot of us, Michelin was always a dream… now it’s a goal. For the culinary scene here, this is incredible because for anyone who wants to chase stars or be a part of a Michelin-rated restaurant, you no longer need to leave San Diego to make that happen. It could raise the bar for the whole city.”
Photography by: Visit California/David Collier