Monday, June 17, 2024

Long Beach has scored its first Michelin star—but the Guide’s importance in SoCal (and the world) needs to be dismissed in the modern world

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Heritage has achieved a Long Beach first: a Michelin star. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Chef Philip Pretty and his sister-slash-co-owner have unquestionably geared themselves toward what is one of the city’s best restaurants, turning over their much-missed sandwich shop into a full, prix-fixe-only dinner spot that has garnered them the sought-after accolade.

It is, unquestionably, an accomplishment—but in all frankness, I think not a singular chef in SoCal should care about it; this isn’t to dismiss the achievement but, rather, look at Michelin’s history in this area—because, simply put, they haven’t cared about SoCal food and, well, we shouldn’t care about their opinion of it.

I know this is inflammatory, but hear me out.

In an exchange between Chef Pretty and myself two years ago, when the Michelin guide began recognizing on a basic level Long Beach (and, only shortly before that, Los Angeles region restaurants), I wrote a very blunt piece: Yes, we’re being recognized but should we care?

I was served a fresh plate of Listen-Here-Writer from Chef Pretty:

“I think we should really care. Some of us work our whole careers to get to that level of cooking and service. For Michelin to come to our city, we should be happy as it will only help us move forward as the food city we need to be recognized as. From high-end to low-end, it all matters.”

I don’t necessarily fully disagree with him: Levels of cooking and service need to be heightened; however, I remain firmly unsure if Michelin remains the guide to measure those levels.

This is where Chef Pretty and I depart.

And we have for years since this interaction in 2021: The food scene of any city shouldn’t have anything to do with something well-known chefs are widely dismissing in 2023, an organization tacked with accusations of pay-to-play since 2017, a thing where previously starred-chefs are asking the organization to leave them alone

This is fueled by the fact as to why SoCal was dismissed by Michelin in the first place. Here is direct quote from former Michelin Directeur Général Jean-Luc Naret explaining the choice in a GQ magazine interview from 2010:

“The people in Los Angeles are not real foodies. They are not too interested in eating well but just into who goes to which restaurant and where they sit.”

I commenced the eye-roll then and I have done it since, every time re-reading the words; it was the classic, god-awful New York-read of Los Angeles with French subtitles.

While Naret may have exited, giving way to the current Gwendal Poullennec (followed by the amicable Alexandre Taisne) taking charge, the entirety of the L.A. region needs to ask itself: Should we really care about a guide who described us as a vacuous, vapid group of people in an equally vacuous cuisine scene? Should we really care about a guide who has kept its grading methodology largely secretive and, even more in a metropolis, left many of us wondering how any guide can honestly measure it all?

Here’s how Chef Roy Choi put it when the guide returned in four years ago—and in 2023, it still stands: 

“I don’t really have thoughts on the Michelin Guide, because that has nothing to do with the life that I live. All I can say to those who do care about it is that, just from a city pride standpoint as it pertains to Los Angeles, these people dissed you right to your face. They called you unsophisticated, left you hanging, slandered the city across the globe. And now they’re going to come back, and guys are going to grovel at their ankles? That doesn’t mean you have to hate Michelin or the idea of it, but if you have L.A. pride, think about that.”

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And I stand by what I said before: Michelin is still very much respected; despite critiques of being antiquated, geocentric (French food, despite its redundancy, always wins the stars—hell, Chef Carlos Gaytán became the first chef in Mexico to get a star and that was only a few years ago), and favoring luxury over accessible food, the guide still stands strong.

My ultimate hope, both here in Long Beach and especially in Los Angeles, is that chefs continue cooking as if they weren’t here. Keep cooking like the only thing you care about are your patrons and community.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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