What the World's Best Chefs Really Think about Michelin Stars

According to Rasmus Dinesen, director of Michelin Stars—Tales from the Kitchen.

For two years, Rasmus Dinesen lived a foodie's dream. The Danish filmmaker traveled the world, interviewing 15 Michelin-starred chefs including René RedzepiAlain Ducasse, and Andoni Aduriz to paint a portrait of their lives, their ambitions, and to learn everything he could about the most artful and sophisticated dining on the planet. The resulting film, Michelin Stars—Tales From The Kitchen, is a meditation on food, fame, and fortune, and it officially screens on September 23 at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.  Dinesen's light touch lets the chefs and their creations star. "It's only food, but I'm trying to give it something more than that," he says.

The director took a break from enjoying one of the last Denmark summer days at his vacation home 90 minutes north of Copenhagen to chat with Best Life about convincing 15 world-class chefs to participate in a documentary, getting access into the highly secretive Michelin organization, and the true value of a Michelin star. And for more great culture coverage, don't miss our Q&A with Narcos star Michael David-Stahl. 

Talk to me about logistics. How did this come together? Who was the first chef to agree?

In Denmark, we have Noma and René Redzepi, and Rasmus Kofoed, who got Geranium, the first three-star restaurant here. I made a film about Kofoed, when he won the Bocuse d'Or in 2011. Those two were the first ones we talked to. Then the two producers and I sat down and said, 'Which restaurants would be nice?' Mugaritz in Spain. We wanted to go to Tokyo, so we talked to people who knew about the restaurant scene in Japan. We talked about a classic restaurant in Paris. We found Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy. They are both legendary, in their 60s. They are two of the older chefs in the film. Years ago, I made a series about Michelin chefs targeting the Scandinavian market. We went to New York because there are a lot of Danish chefs in New York. When we were there, we found out about Eleven Madison Park. We asked them to be in the film.

Some of the chefs said no. I can't remember which ones, though. 

How did you get access to the Michelin organization? It seems to secretive.

It is. We don't understand it ourselves. They just said, "Well, that's nice. We want to be a part of [the film]." Michael Ellis is his name. We met him in Stockholm when the Michelin Guide launched, and then we met him in Copenhagen the year after. Each of those interviews was one and a half hours. That's where we got the footage.

You were surprised that Michelin said yes?

We hoped for it, of course, but we were surprised. The funny part is that so many people talk about how you never know how Michelin does and how they grade restaurants, but Ellis tells everything about what and how they measure. The identity of the inspectors is still secret, but he talks a lot about how they work. We really get into those details, about the metrics and what they want to see.

What do people need to know about eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant?

Some are very formal and some are casual, but the most important thing is to go with the vibe, go with the journey. It can take three to four hours to eat sometimes, so it's just about enjoying the meals, the little dishes you get.

What do you think about the Michelin system?

It's the oldest guide there is. Of course, it's maybe a bit old-fashioned, but it's trying to be more modern. That takes time. It takes time to change a very old style, but it's happening right now. Scandinavia wasn't anything before in terms of restaurants and chefs, and now it has a lot. Michelin has to adapt to that. In Scandinavia, it's more about non-fat food, a lot of fish, and a lot of veggies. That's somehow a new style in the world of fine dining.

What do the chefs really think about the Michelin Guide?

In the film, the Spanish food critic says that chefs don't want to talk bad about the guide. I understand that perspective. If you talk bad about the guide, maybe you won't get stars. No chef will say, "I don't want three stars." Of course they want three stars. It's a big honor, and there are only 120 restaurants in the world that have three stars. But they are also cool. Most of the chefs we met have a pretty relaxed relationship to the guide and the stars.

Do you worry about glorifying chefs or about the politics of spending $200 or more on a meal?

From their perspective, I don't think the chefs think that's expensive. The products, the people, the hours, and the amount of time that you're sitting eating it—for them, it's totally normal that it costs what it does. When the chefs aren't working, they are checking out the other Michelin restaurants around the world. That's what they do.

What's the best meal you had?

I can't say one best meal, but I had a lobster at Azurmendi in Bilbao that was amazing, and I got asparagus at Eleven Madison Park that was unlike anything I've ever had before. It's been an amazing journey for two years, learning about techniques and trying to understand how taste can be how it is.

How are your cooking skills?

They are pretty good. Not the chef-style, but I'm definitely how to be a better chef after making this film.

What's the best dish you make?

I'm not so fancy. I don't have one particular dish that's the best. I just love food. All food.

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