Restaurant magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants is arguably the most prestigious global restaurant list, and last night it dished out its latest rankings. Equally prestigious is the Michelin system out of France, which has rated (but not ranked) restaurants for more than a century. Many people look to these rating and ranking systems for the top global culinary experiences, but they are not without criticism, which ranges from male-dominated lists to payoffs to horrible staff treatment all in the name of landing that Top 50 ranking or third Michelin star. We spoke with three cannabis-friendly chefs—Pot Pie host Chris “The Herbal Chef” Sayegh, Mindy Segal of Mindy’s HotChocolate and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio—about their thoughts on the different systems. In particular, we asked chef Colicchio about possible gender discrimination. The following were their responses:
Chris Sayegh, The Herbal Chef
I've heard a lot of negative feedback about the Michelin system. Critics say it's very corrupt and rates restaurants in accordance with who can pay the most. In Los Angeles, they haven't been here in a long time. It lends credibility to that [argument] because LA stopped paying them to come out, basically. I wouldn't say don't pay attention to it, but I would say take everything with a grain of salt because, after all, we are dealing with food here. We're dealing with something that is very subjective. I've worked in places where the guy wanted his bread burnt, like, literally. You and I would consider something burnt, but he was like, "No, that's not even close to where I want it." Everything is so subjective, but I would say I trust about 85 percent of the Michelin system. I've heard good things about the [AAA] Diamond [Ratings], but I really only pay attention to the Michelin system because they are cracking down and getting better. They went through their turmoil where people got paid off, and then they really started to pay attention and crack down on that stuff.
As far as the World's 50 Best list, again, I would say I'd agree with probably about 85 percent. How do you quantify, how do you classify it? Is it just the food? I'd have to see the criteria for judging everything because, to me, a dinner experience is about not only the food but also the atmosphere. It's about the accompaniments, as in the drinks, the service. It's about everything that goes into your dining experience as soon as you walk through the door. Really, as soon as you leave the car. As soon as you step out of the car, that's when your experience should start. I don't know if they're judging off of that. If they're just going off of food, then there are some discrepancies.
I think they are really nice obviously for recognition. I think that someone telling you that a restaurant is the best restaurant in the world is an opinion. It's subjective... I guess that's the word that I'm looking for. I really feel like for every 50 best restaurants in the world there are 150 restaurants that we don't even know about that are just as good. I think that you need to really put things into perspective. In our careers as chefs we should want to focus on the work that we do and pleasing the people that are eating the product we make.
I don't even know what I want to say without saying something negative. I think that shops sometimes focus so much on James Beard nominations, a Michelin Star, the recognition and the acknowledgement instead of focusing on the work. I'm not saying that there aren’t hard working chefs. There are, there's tons of them, me included, but the focus needs to be on the product and our guest. Things come after that. What's the difference? If the restaurant you work at is busy every night, who cares whether you get a Michelin star or not?
When I was at Gramercy Tavern, there was a period of time when I had chefs like Jonathan Benno, Marco Canora, Damon Wise and a few others who all went on to do pretty great stuff, and they were all in minor positions to women who worked for me. These women were just dynamite, but I think there is only one left working, Sarah Schafer, who is working in San Francisco right now. Even at Craft, I had a woman who worked her way up to sous chef recently, and she was slated to be the next chef de cuisine at a new restaurant, and she decided she didn’t want to do it anymore. There is something going on, and it has nothing to do with the politics of the restaurant or kitchen or someone’s idea of putting a list together. This question would be very easy to answer by saying “no comment” because it is fraught with problems anytime you try to answer it. It is filled with landmines. You are damned if you, damned if you don’t.
I think this is more of a social issue with how we deal with women, especially women who have children. This is true for [all professions], not just for food. Especially for single women, we need more support for them, more childcare that is built in [to the system]. It really goes back to affordable childcare and recognizing that women have different needs when it comes to working and keeping them in the workplace, and we need to address those needs. Do we want to exclude people because they decide it is important for them to stay home and raise a family, or do we want to make it possible for them to contribute as much as they can when they can? I think the government should play a role in making sure that happens.
What I would rather comment on are lists. I think they are the most ridiculous things going right now. It’s always someone’s list for best burger, best pizza… enough with the lists already! It is just a bunch of nonsense. The women whom I know—you talk to Barbara Lynch about that—and she is happy to be known as a chef, not as a woman chef or the [second] woman to win Outstanding Restaurateur in James Beard [Awards]. What is important is that she is doing it and she is recognized as a chef at a restaurant who is contributing regardless of gender.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Image from the 2016 event courtesy of the World's 50 Best Restaurants.