The Gastronaut: In Search of the Michelin Man

With the arrival of two-starred Justin Bogle in our town, some foodies say: Bring on the Michelin Guide! But we’re fine without it, thanks.

Michelin guide for Philadelphia restaurants

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

In the beginning, there was France—just this dumpy two-bit European country where everyone grubbed around in the mud, ate rocks for dinner, caught cholera and died at 34.

But over time, France became a colonial power. It went all over the globe picking fights. And everywhere they went, the French brought their armies, their ridiculous hats, their whores and, because they were French, their chef’s knives.

Everywhere they went, they pillaged the local cuisine, stole every good idea, then gave them all French names. To the French, codification was tantamount to ownership. The great French cookbook-slash-encyclopedia, Larousse Gastronomique? A world history of plundered cuisines.

Colonialism didn’t work out that well for the French. The fleur-de-lis came down in nation after nation—but the food got kept. France became the center of the culinary universe. The French began ranking their restaurants from best to worst in a hundred different books and surveys—the most notable of which eventually became Le Guide Michelin, or the Michelin Guide.

Currently, the Michelin Guide only reports on three American hubs: New York, Chicago and the Bay Area. Despite rumors to the contrary, no Philadelphia restaurant has ever received a Michelin star. But we now have a guy who’s shown up with a bunch of them to his credit: Justin Bogle, formerly the chef at Gilt in New York, which earned two precious stars from the Guide.

And now, there are those in the dining class who seem to think that his arrival in the city and the recent opening of his new restaurant, Avance, together make the perfect excuse for Le Guide to start sending its “inspectors” into our fair burg. Mere mention of this possibility is generally met with girlish squeals of delight: “Oh, the Guide … wouldn’t it just be darling?”

No. Leaving aside all discussion of economy, utility, and the Guide’s bias towards French restaurants, the absolute last thing Philadelphia needs right now is the Guide’s attention. We’ve got a good thing going—an up-by-the-bootstraps restaurant renaissance that’s being built neighborhood by neighborhood. Our restaurants (most of them, anyhow) are fiercely local, connected by bonds of earth and toil to their specific zip codes. Places as disparate as Avance, Laurel, Pizzeria Beddia and Han Dynasty all have one thing in common: They bring the world to our doorsteps, without any help from the French.

There’s a revolution going on in American cuisine right now—a nameless, undefined something that’s all about personal connections to food and place and the relationships between chefs and cooks and suppliers—and Philadelphia is at the heart of it. At this moment in time, we don’t need the Guide encouraging us to look beyond our own borders, or to take ourselves too seriously.

That sort of thing is better left to the French.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • rk

    LMAO! a local critic defends his fiefdom. it won’t happen because Philly’s not a big enough metro area to be worth it to the guidebooks (they’d probably return to LA before coming to Philly), but your argument is just fear mongering illogical statements.

    How would getting international press and more food tourists hurt a local restaurant scene? How would Laurel or Han or Beddia suffer (or Avance change?). Shit, Han’s expanding like crazy (what’s personal about his goals to create a national chain?!?), Laurel’s thriving in large part because of getting national press (hello top chef!), and Beddia’s all about limiting access to its wares. More outside money coming in actually could promote that locality–look at how Napa became a foodie destination when the French Laundry became famous, for one example. And from that came dozens of other fabulous restaurants built around a very local food scene. smdh.

    • Dan P

      Philly is the fifth biggest metro.

      • rk

        ya lo se. Still, LA is bigger. and more of a tourist trap–especially at the high end. There are very few city level Michelin Guides, all of which are in metro areas that are more populated and wealthier than Philly.

        • Dan P

          LA has glitzier restaurants, but Philadelphia is not really all that smaller than Chicago and the dining scene here is leaps and bounds better than the cities right below us.

          • rk

            I wouldn’t say Chicago is not that much bigger than Philly–it’s MUCH bigger. 3.5 million people more in Chicago metro than Philly metro. That’s about 75% more people. It’s a lot bigger. and Michelin is about ritzy, high end, filthy rich people restaurants. LA and Chicago have a lot more wealth than Philly.

          • Dan P

            Chicago is a metro area is about 9.7 million people, Philly is about 7 million. Philadelphia doesn’t have quite the levelof wealth as those two cities, but the area is fairly well off and again, the dining scene is ahead of the curve here.

          • Natalie

            But how many other big cities and people are within a short car ride or quick train trip of Philly? Chicago? I see these guides as not for people in the city (we know which restaurants are awesome), its for people who are not in the know to see who is rocking the culinary scene. Size or no size, we have a food seen at the level of Chicago and LA but more affordable. Not sure Michelin cares or like affordability or accessibility though. I’m fine loving my Philly food scene without recognition or with it.

  • gijyun

    Sorry, Jason Sheehan. A Michelin star rating would be looooooong overdue for some of Philadelphia’s gems and would help position us nationally – none of these things are bad things.

  • JA

    Jason, “Our fair burg” IS NOT YOUR “fair burg”. Do us all a favor and go the F back to wherever the F you came from…I think the last place was Seattle.

  • Alexander

    Why pick on the French? An easy line… Always come from a second rate writer. “Pillaged local cuisine”? What are we doing here in America? The same! And this is OK. It is how a cuisine will evolves. Body, you have a Looong way to go to learn about Hospitality, restaurant and food.