When the first edition of Le Guide Michelin was published in 1900 it was created as a guide to France, offering information to travellers on the locations where gasoline could be bought, garages could be found for car repairs and parts, hotels and good quality lodging, places for finding a good quality meal and even the locations where public toilets could be found.
The guide was designed to encourage a greater use of the motor vehicle for travel and in-turn to increase the sales of the Michelin tire.
Today, Michelins’ red covered guide has become famous around Europe and the rest of the world as a mark and guide to the best of the best. With its’ famous and greatly revered stars, the guide seems to be the trend of the moment. When it comes to following food in the media it doesn’t seem these days that you can go for long with out the mention of a star awarded chef here or there.
I know at least for the British public, with its ever growing epidemic of food madness, “Stars” means Stars, from everyone’s old favourite Gordon Ramsey of course, with his little galaxy of Michelin Stars, to the newer talent riding in his wake, talent like Jason Atherton of Maze and Marcus Wareing of Petrus. The Great British public just can’t seem to get enough of it all.
In 2006, the publication released its first guide for New York, followed in 2007 with a guide for San Francisco and now Los Angeles and Las Vegas find themselves as part of the Michelin critic.
Released for the first time in November 2007, the Michelin Tokyo Guide awarded a total of 191 stars to 150 restaurants in Tokyo, more stars than in any other city in the world, including Michelins’ beloved, Paris.
Jean-Luc Naret, the Michelin Guides director even announced Tokyo to be “the world leader in Gourmet Dining.”
The 2008 and 27th edition of the guides “Main Cities of Europe” has seen the edition of three new cities never included before – Kracow of Poland and Stuttgart and Cologne of Germany, this book alone now covering a huge 3006 establishments – 1544 hotels and 1462 restaurants.
You might ask yourself how it could be possible that with only 80 inspectors – each running up annual expenses of 99,895 euros and travelling distances of up to 25,000 milers per year – and with such a vast number establishments around the world now awarded either the 1, 2 or 3 star accolade, how it could be possible that the people at Michelin can continue to keep there guide up to date, ensuring confidence to its readers and followers that the guide truly is something to be regarded with the esteem that it has gathered over the past hundred years.
The Michelin Guide, being what it is has come under scrutiny from all angles of the culinary world.
Over the years there have been accusations made against the guide for its’ “Special Relationships” with some of the establishments that appear in the guide.
In 2005 a newspaper reported on how a Benelux edition of the guide had been released containing a restaurant awarded the guides’ “Bib Gourmand”, what surprised the journalist who wrote the article was the fact that the restaurant didn’t open until several months after the guide went on sale.
My own personal experience while dining at the three starred Michelin, L’Auberge de L’ill in Illhaeusern, Strasbourg, was one of extreme disappointment. Considering that the restaurant had held its’ three stars since 1967, I had expected to have a dining experience that I would be able to remember and talk about with high regard through out future food conversation with friends and colleagues, sadly, instead, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth and the feeling that I had just been robbed.
I have pondered this experience for weeks and held the guide in very low esteem since, wondering to myself why I should see such a high quality of cooking in cities like, London, Paris and Amsterdam – from restaurants which have no star accolade – and then find myself eating and paying over the odds for food that the guide would merit as “worth a special journey”, food that I considered to be well executed yet mediocre.
I wonder if my experience here could have been a sign of the Michelins benevolence towards one of there “Special relationships”. Or maybe it was simply evidence that what the people at Michelin find to be the pinnacle of French gastronomy is indeed behind the times.
Chef Marco Pierre White, once the youngest chef to be awarded three stars, has been just one of many Chefs and the like who have offered the opinion that the Guide could be out of touch with modern cuisine, too commercialised and at times too “Snobbish” to offer a fair review to its’ readers, at least one that they should care about.
Many have accused Michelin of not being consistent with its standards – something, as mentioned before, that I can agree with – while others have maintained the impression that the “Stars” can more often than not be related more to those, “special relationships”, that the guide may have acquired through out the years, rather than to the quality and consistency that should be the cause of merit.
This is a discussion that could continue for hours with little conclusion other than the fact that all involved will indeed find themselves in need of a good meal.
The question we do need to ask ourselves after considering all this is whether or not the Michelin Guide is still relevant today.
The answer is of course yes.
You do not merely right off an institution like the Michelin guide, even if it was in fact created with ulterior motives and at times can seem to harbour still such motives, even if it’s not always consistent and up to date, and even, if it can seem a little “snobbish” at times. Because what the guide has given us; chefs, sommeliers, waiters, hoteliers and diners alike, is a sense of aspiration.
Three of the worlds top chefs and most inspirational, are with out doubt, Ferran Adria from El Bulli in Rosas, Spain, Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck in Bray, UK and Pierre Gagnaire from his restaurant in Paris. What they all have in common is their relationship with the study of “Molecular Gastronomy”. Though not completely understood by many – chefs included – “Molecular Gastronomy” is not simply a new trend or cooking style. It is not a new Haute cuisine following the past Nouvelle or Cuisine classique. Molecular Gastronomy is the understanding of the physics and chemistry behind the preparation and cooking of the food we eat.
French chemist, Herve This and the late Hungarian atomic physicist, Nicholas Kurti first coined the term, “Molecular and Physical Gastronomy” in 1988. While offering answers and understanding to cooks and chefs as to why and what happens to food products when cooked or manipulated through chemistry or physics the study is also revealing new techniques and understanding that is helping chefs to improve their cooking skills and in turn the dishes they can produce. Leading to a wonderful explosion of flavours and presentation techniques that are “Wowing “ diners around the world.
While over the years technology in many parts of human existence has grown at a great pace, in the kitchen it has been slow. The methods of which we cook today are not too dissimilar to methods used hundreds of years ago by our ancestors. While there has been a lot of research into the science of ingredients (their contents and their effects on the body), this is very different from the science of cooking. Cooking has been one of the last “chemical arts” to come under scrutiny from the scientist and the chef, who with their passion for all things food have led the way to relying more on fact than the telltale, anecdotal knowledge that has been , with good intentions, been passed down through the ages.
Over the years many culinary myths have been passed down through the generations, some of them relevant, some of them quickly debunked by the study of Molecular Gastronomy.
In general our understanding of food and the science behind preparing and cooking it is at most, amongst society, pitiful. Being that our main function in life should be to feed ourselves with foods that are beneficial rather than simply convenient I am pleased to know that at least “Molecular Gastronomy” and its patrons are taking the lead for the rest of mankind.
Amsterdam’s Finest Market.
The Biologische Boerenmarkt, between Noordermarkt and the Prinsengracht canal in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, sadly, is not the best market in Europe. Saying that, the market offers a variety of fantastic produce for chefs and food lovers alike.
Early indications lead us to believe that coffee originated in Ethiopia and Kenya, possibly as far back as 1400 B.C.
It is not until the 14th century when we begin to see a regular cultivation of the coffee plant occuring in the terraced gardens of Yemen and becoming a daily part of life and politics throughtout the muslim world.
The first coffee houses were established in Yemen and by the 1500’s coffee had spread to Turkey and Persia – Our word “coffee” derives from the Turkish-Arabic name of the energy giving drink, ‘Kahwe’.
The rise in coffee houses around the Arab world led to the disapproval of the drink from some religious leaders as they believed the coffee houses to be places for free political thinking. This led to the destruction of many coffee houses and a ban on all sales of the drink.
By this time though coffee was becoming a highly traded commodity that had found its way to trading cities such as Cairo and Damascus and with such high taxes imposed at ports for shipping it was an export so valuable that the Yemeni rulers tried to keep there monolopy of the coffee bean by banning the export of the plant, allowing only roasted or boiled seeds – that are useless for growing – to be exported.
A time of huge sailing vessels and greater navigation of the seas led to a flourish in trade amongst the continents.
The port of Venice became an Eastern market and with European vessels trading from Arabic and Asian countries coffee soon found its way into Europe.
A famous Botonist and physician, Paduan Prospero Alpino, can be credited for introducing the drink to the Venetians and to Italy.
Coffee houses sprang up all over Italy. Pope Clemente VII even blessed the wonderful drink.
Coffee and the Coffee house culture could not have hit Europe at a better time. This was the 1500’s, Renaissance time, a time hailed by many to be the era of modern free thought.
Freethinkers like Da Vinci and Errasmus were going against the flow of tradition.
Where as the Muslim religious leaders tried banning the energy giving drink throughout the Muslim countries, the Pope had blessed it, opening the door for its wide spread consumption across Europe.
The Coffee House became a place of social gathering that was welcoming to all walks of society. Traders could mix with politicians, business could be done and deals made.
Lloyds of London the famous brokers began their trade in Edward Lloyds Coffee house in the city, where merchants, ship owners and underwriters would meet to do business.
In London, the Coffee House preceded the “Club” where men could meet and talk. In 1680 in the city of London on Exchange Alley, Jonathan Miles founded, Jonathan’s Coffee House, which in 1698 saw the listings of stocks and commodity prices listed on its walls, which would later evolve into the London Stock Exchange.
Some of the great auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christies would also begin their trade from small auction rooms attached to Coffee Houses.
It would not only be the likes of businessmen to find use in the coffee house. Likewise they were popular with the poets and bohemian crowds. In Germany Johan Sebastian Bach first performed his famous Coffee Cantata in a coffee house in 1732.
At the turn of the century Luigi Bezzera, the owner of a manufacturing company, wanted to create a faster way to produce coffee to cut down on the amount of time his employees took for their coffee break. This began the first steps towards the, Espresso as we know it today.
Up until this time coffee had been produced with the use of the elaborate steam machines that had been invented by Edward Loysel de Santais in 1843. His machines used steam and a system of pipes to raise the water to a level suitable enough to allow the weight of the water to force it down through the coffee bed. Although these machines were said to be capable of brewing two thousand cups of coffee an hour, these machines, with their elaborate design, brewed a beverage that was without great flavour.
Bezzera created a system that also used steam pressure to force the hot water through the ground coffee. Though his machine, the Tipo Gigante, brewed coffee a lot faster than previous machines the final taste of the brew was still one that was bitter.
Bezzera was not so good at marketing his product and eventually sold his patent in 1905 to a man named Desiderio Pavoni.
Pavoni was the first to realize that the bitter taste of the coffee was a result of the high temperatures that the ground coffee was being exposed to. He set about experimenting with various temperatures and eventually found that brewing at a temperature of one hundred and ninety five degrees with an eight to nine BAR pressure produced the best results – this being the rule for the Espresso we drink today.
Though it can be said that the espresso “shot” as we know, usually one ounce of ground coffee, the base of any good coffee that we drink today came about after the invention of the Gaggia coffee machine by Achilles Gaggia.
Born in 1895, in the Porta Vittoria quarter of Milan. After schooling he set himself up in a coffee bar in Milans Via Permuda where he became a dedicated barman. Unhappy with the quality of the product he had set his life around he began working on a new machine that was capable of consistently introducing pressurized water at eight BAR or higher into a bed of coffee, easily and cheaply enough for normal commercial use
Gaggia invented a steamless system that used pistons. By pulling down on a lever a spring was loaded and the required amount of liquid was allowed to enter a chamber, on release the hot water would be forced through the ground coffee in the filter extracting all the goodness of the coffee grind.
This was 1938, Gaggia applied for a patent for the use of the machine in his bar.
Seeing that his customers were enthusiastic about his product Gaggia presented further test machines to some of the more famous bars of Milan. From this point Gaggia was on the road to success. His machines and his coffee espresso were a hit. Infortunately the out-break of war across europe put Gaggias project on hold for a short while.
It would not be until the end of the war that Gaggia would get back to marketing his new machines.
By 1946 Gaggias machines were no longer tall and cylindriacl but rectangle in their design and heavily influenced by the art deco period of the time.
With the determination of Achilles Gaggia to produce a coffee of a higher standard the much loved Espresso was born. Espresso became a beverage that took on its own uniqueness.
Gaggia had invented a machine that would change the way coffee would be prepared in Italy and finally around the world