What's the FUSS about a Michelin star?
Crystal Orderson grew up on the Cape Flats. As a lover of breyani and various other curries, she explores the big fuss surrounding the Michelin star.
JOHANNESBURG - My food palate has been shaped by growing up on the Cape Flats on the outskirts of Cape Town. Here a meal would consist of various curries, breyani, be it fish, chicken or meat, samp and mielies; fish and chips and as dessert warm bollas and koesisters. Food influenced by migration, a movement of people, buying your vegetables on the street and what is on offer locally and the sea.
I have also been fortunate that from my roots on the Cape Flats, I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa, tasting the infamous pepper soup in Nigeria, eating red-red - a popular bean dish in Ghana, Djebo-Djen - the famous fish dish in Senegal and an array of local foods from East to Central to West Africa.
But one thing I know, is that I am not is a foodie, I eat because I have to; I like my mother's food and will not book a restaurant months in advance because of some famous chef or that it has some rave reviews.
So when I was invited by the number one hospitality school in the World, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, EHL Lausanne in Switzerland where the world's only Michelin star restaurant is located at a hotel school I thought let me give me taste buds a taste of something new. Be open, see for yourself what the fuss is about and ask the chefs what the fuss is all about.
Michelin star restaurants are scattered all over Europe, Japan and the US and Hong Kong, parts of Brazil and Singapore. It does not operate globally and does not cover Africa yet.
Student chefs hard at work at EHL.
WHAT'S IN A STAR?
Now Michelin Star was started by the world famous Michelin tyre company and word in Europe is that they started it in France because they wanted the French to explore the countryside and buy new tyres. According to the history books, Michelin Stars were a feature of the oldest guide in Europe Michelin guide books published in 1900 by Andre and Edourd.
They award up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments and the acquisition or loss of a star can have a major effect on the success of a restaurant.
LE BERCEAU DES SENS: A PASSION FOR EXCELLENCE
In February, the Le Berceau des Sens become the first educational restaurant in Switzerland to receive a Michelin star. The school already also holds the highest Gault & Millau rating for an educational restaurant.
"It is a little pressure, guests look at everything," says the world renowned chef Patrick Oghead. He says a few days after receiving the star, they had testers coming to the restaurant to see if they were, in fact, deserving of the star.
Michelin reviewers also referred to as "inspectors “ are anonymous; they can come with a family of noisy children or sit alone, they do not identify themselves, and their meals and expenses are paid for by Michelin, never by a restaurant being reviewed.
They can come at any time and it means you have to be your best all the time adds Oghead.
With a waiting list of up to five weeks and diners travelling across Europe to eat at the restaurant, which makes the restaurant unique is that the high-quality and exceptional service that is offered by the students from serving the wine, to bread to making the food of course under the watchful eye of instructors and top chefs. The attention to the detail on the plate and the different taste is certainly something I will always remember.
A bread roll.
Chef Cédric Bourassin says: "The star was not a goal we were trying to achieve, because the primary goal is to train our students, but it is a wonderful recognition of the product that we strive to offer our customers." The Berceau des Sens offers a menu inspired by French cuisine and Oghead. Tells me that the menu is also in pursuit of umami, the fifth flavor that one of the chefs was able to explore during his stay in Japan.
SO WHAT WAS ON MY PLATE?
My fellow journalists who was part of the media trip, hailed from India, Brazil, Mexico,China, Russia an Singapore were as excited as I was to see and taste what all the fuss was about a Michelin star restaurant.
Crispy red mullet fillet, with southern vegetables pesto.
Our the three-course meal included seared duck, rhubarb-ginger chutney as a starter; main meal was red mullet fillet stuffed with southern vegetables and vegetables with pesto scented courgette with fennel. Our dessert was strawberries with matcha green tea and green cardamon. Did I ever imagined I would have cardamon dessert apart from usually biting on it when I eat my local breyani? Hmm, no.
The chef says the secret with Michelin star food is that its inspired by local produce and sourcing only local ingredients that is grown in a sustainable manner. The menu also changes every two weeks and the chefs working here are a mix of students and top chefs from across Europe.
My palette was certainly taken on a journey of different ingredients and the presentation of the food was beautiful with the different colors and textures on offer.
Did I enjoy the food? It was certainly different, I am open to tasting different food. My Russian and Indian colleagues were less impressed and said they could not understand the fuss about the star.
I guess for non-foodies, myself included, we might never understand what it means to be awarded the famous star, how people who loved food travel the globe to taste the food and what chefs can do.
So, I might insult some foodies when I say, yes, it was great to see it all, watch the chefs in the kitchen stirring up their magic and presenting the meal to their guests. I know foodies and lovers of good food will be disappointed; but for a girl from the Cape Flats – breyani still stirs up so much love.
All pictures by Crystal Orderson.