Last Night’s TV – Michelin Stars: The Madness of Perfection

I must admit that to me, a good meal in a restaurant is one that is a) well cooked b) well presented and c) leaves me feeling like I’ve actually eaten something…

Therefore, I’ve never understood the fascination with two or three tiny offerings on a very expensive plate that wouldn’t fill a sparrow. And much less, I’ve never understood why someone would pay the equivalent of a weekly wage to eat at a restaurant where five courses could be served on a saucer.

But I’m common; I freely admit it, I just am. I’m working class – and proud of it – so when I saw this show advertised, I thought I might end up understanding what this obsession with Michelin is all about. And frankly, it’s analogous to drug use for those who give a toss about it…

Michelin may award up to three stars it seems, so once a chef or eatery has been awarded one, they want two. If they get two, they want three…

And it seems the pursuit of stars from Michelin is, for at least one unfortunate, a life or death thing. We heard how chef Bernard Loiseau committed suicide because he was so horrified at the thought of losing his Michelin star.

For others, it’s a pursuit that divides families and requires a dedication that can take up some fifteen hours a day, seven days a week.

So, William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated, set out to find out just what this Michelin malarkey is all about; who Michelin are, how they operate and just exactly why a nod from them is so coveted.

And in a rather surreal segment, we saw that Sitwell was refused access to Michelin’s HQ lest a secret agent of theirs be caught on camera and subsequently recognized. This would, we heard, negate said agent’s secret identity and when he/she visits restaurants anonymously and unannounced, they may of course be spotted.

Ok…

But the whole idea conjured up images of MIBs, besuited and in reflector shades, approaching a table with a suspicious bulge in their suit pocket. I had a rather amusing mental video of such an agent suddenly pulling out his knife and fork, pointing them at a waiter and saying, “Just bring me quails egg in a piquant sauce and nobody need get hurt… and do it quietly. You haven’t seen me, understand?”

We were treated to real-life scenes in kitchens too – which were only mildly less amusing than imaginary ones – and in one segment, we saw Sitwell ‘helping’ chef Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley Hotel during a lunchtime session. Wareing is a two star chef, and inevitably, he wants that third star, and it quickly became apparent that Sitwell wasn’t going to help him achieve that ambition…

When Sitwell was tasked with plating up starters, he made – apparently, though it looked fine to me; arty farty posh, but fine – a giant booboo by laying out his chestnuts at the wrong angle and adding too much pepper.

As Wareing looked on with an alarming lack of benevolence, Sitwell innocently asked, “So it’s a one-star dish?” And when no immediate affirmation was forthcoming, set his sights lower and said pleadingly, “No-star?”

Wareing then replied, “It is a two-star dish; it’s just that you did it wrong. Whichever way you look at it, you f***ed it up.”

As I say, it didn’t look f***ed up to me – it looked like pretentious nonsense, but as I said, I’m common…

Overall, this was a very entertaining documentary, and if you find yourself at a loose end this weekend, you could do worse than watch it on iPlayer here.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.