With dishes like her Peking Duck with Hakurei Turnips, Morello Cherries, Sumac and Labneh, Chef Mary Atea of Musket room in New York has received many accolades and one coveted title: Michelin-starred chef.
“It’s something that will follow you forever,” Sane said.
“When I think about it too much, it gets a little overwhelming,” Atea laughed. “But it’s something I’m really proud of.”
The Musket Room opened ten years ago. It was awarded a Michelin star in 2014 and every year since then. Atea took over the kitchen in 2020. She said: “I felt I had big shoes to fill to maintain the standard that was here but also deliver my vision.”
The Michelin GuideRestaurant reviewers (known as inspectors) took note in their review, writing, “Mary Frances Atea is the owner and commander of this restaurant.”
Sane asked, “Is that the phrase you were expecting?”
– It wasn’t, but you know, I’ll take it!
The work of Kamara Mick, Executive Pastry Chef, was also recognized; Michelin called their desserts “thought-provoking.”
“I want it to have meaning, not just random ingredients thrown together just because they sound cool,” Atea said. “There must be a little story behind it.”
Michelin, the French tire manufacturer, first published the Michelin Guide in 1900. It began awarding stars to restaurants in France about 100 years ago. “The founding brothers, the frères Michelin, had a brilliant idea to create a guide that would help people travel,” said Gwendal Pouleneck, international director of Guide Michelin.
Michelin still sells tires. But, Poulenec said, “tyres are not made by professional anonymous inspectors who eat in restaurants every day.”
Today, international teams of inspectors inspect restaurants around the world, including the US, with guides in Washington, California, New York, Chicago and (last year) Florida.
Sane asked, “So the idea is, while you’re riding on our car tires, here’s a place to stop to eat?”
“One star is worth the stop,” Pouleneck said. “Two stars are worth a detour, and three stars are worth a special journey.”
Restaurants often boast of having Michelin stars (or two or three). There are only approx 140 three-star restaurants worldwide, 13 of them are in the US.
But the inspectors who reward them are strictly anonymous.
Sunday Morning sat down with one, on the condition that we not reveal his name or face.
Sane asked, “What do your friends think you do for a living?”
“They know I’m still in the field,” the inspector replied. “They just don’t know what I do.”
He said he has hotel experience and a culinary school degree. He was a Michelin inspector for about 20 years. And in all that time, he said, it’s never been done: “But I will say that being in the industry for so long, I run into people that I used to work with in restaurants.” He tells them he is a “consultant”.
But sometimes it takes advanced spy skills to maintain that kind of anonymity these days. “We use pseudonyms; we change them regularly,” he said. “We use fake numbers.”
Sanneh quoted the Michelin review for the Musket Room: “‘The master and commander of this restaurant.’ Does this phrase sound familiar to you?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” replied the inspector.
“So, are you allowed to tell us what you ate at the Musket Room?”
– What impressed you about the food there?
“It has a personality, something that makes that dish unique or special,” he said.
Gwendal Pouleneck said the guide is focused: “The star is only about the quality of the food; it’s not about the service or the setting.”
He said that Michelin inspectors evaluate food based on certain criteria: “The quality of the products, the skill of the cooking technique, the harmony and balance of the flavors, the personality of the chef expressed on the plate and last but not least, the consistency. both over time and across the menu as a whole.”
When inspecting a restaurant, inspectors may be sent in pairs or large groups. “But they can also, of course, go it alone,” Pouleneck said. “The decisions and recommendations of the Michelin Guide are never made by one person to guarantee the quality and consistency of the restaurant’s recommendations worldwide.”
Mary Atea says those stars are valuable: “Having a Michelin star keeps the business going,” she said. “People are proud to look for restaurants. So, you know, we always try to keep an eye out for anyone who might look like they’re inspecting food.”
Like many restaurants, the Musket Room has pictures of influential critics hanging on the kitchen wall. Michelin inspectors are harder to spot. They can be anyone, and they can be anywhere (or almost anywhere).
Sane asked Pullen, “Did you eat a hot dog from a cart?”
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“How did you like it?”
“I think that’s part of the New York experience, too,” Pouleneck said.
“It sounds like a very polite word: ‘You don’t have a star.'”
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The plot was prepared by Mary Raffali. Editor: Joseph Frandino.