By Matthew Yglesias
I saw Slate had an article subtitled “How the Michelin guide crippled France’s restaurants” and I clicked right away. That sounded like Slate at its best—bold, contrarian, but not “counterintuitive” in a labored and dumb way. Except I clicked over to the article and the case just isn’t made. Author Mike Steinberger argues persuasively that getting a top Michelin rating involves not just food, but also lavish setting. That’s interesting, but it hardly proves that French restaurants are on the decline and it certainly doesn’t prove that French restaurants are on the decline because of the influence of the Michelin guide.
At any rate, what I’ve always found impressive about the food in France is not so much the fine dining as the extremely high level of pedestrian food. Paris is full of random Vietnamese restaurants and falafel shops that would be huge sensations in the United States. French people are just accustomed to eating food that’s good, and you don’t seem to be able to compete in that marketplace unless you can serve something good. If it’s actually true that French food culture is in some Michelin-induced decline I’d be interested in reading about that, but for now all I have is an amusing anecdote about going to lunch with a Michelin Guide editor.