You’ve probably never heard of Claire Dorland-Clauzel, even though she’s among the world’s most important culinary figures. Dorland-Clauzel is svp of brands (the French equivalent of the CMO) for Michelin, whose restaurant Red Guide is now in its 114th year. Sure, Zagat might be Americans’ ready reference—but Michelin is, as chef Paul Bocuse said, the only guide that matters. Ignoring the vogue for crowd-sourced reviews, Michelin relies on a team of anonymous experts who confer ratings of one to three stars—and one star can make or break a place overnight. Michelin just issued the 10th edition of the Red Guide for New York. We rang Dorland-Clauzel in Paris.
Restaurant reviews have been supplanted by user-generated (meaning: amateur) ratings. How can Michelin stay relevant?
It’s a good question. People need a guide with selections made by professional, anonymous reviewers who are able to deliver true advice on the quality of the ingredients. Of course, there are some people who prefer to have the opinions of other customers, and that’s fine. But we think we have true knowledge in making the selections of a good guide.
There are so many food trends going on at any given time—how do you keep up with them all?
I travel all over the world. I was in New York for the launch of [the 10th edition of] the Red Guide. And I have my mobile devices with me. I look at all media, social media. I’m already connected before going to my office in the morning.
A single star awarded or taken away by Michelin is enough to make or break a chef’s career. Is it difficult to live with such a big responsibility?
Of course. And it’s not easy to manage. But you don’t give or withdraw a star without an extreme analysis, and over one or two or three visits. It’s not a decision to take lightly. But the team [of reviewers] knows they have a great responsibility because with the stars we deliver a service to the public—and we create economic value for the restaurants. We are perfectly aware of that.
The restaurants are, too, I bet.
We receive letters from people who are opening a restaurant, asking if Michelin could come. But the rule is that the people in charge of the rankings are anonymous. We have to maintain our principles.
When you go out to eat, do you check the Michelin guide yourself?
I look to make sure it’s a quality restaurant, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking at the stars. The media are always talking about stars. But Michelin is not just a guide for starred restaurants, but quality restaurants.
Do you ever just throw caution to the wind and try out some local joint for the heck of it?
Tourist guides say you have to visit this and this, but you can also stop in the street and see something that’s not in the guide. I’m in the lucky position that I’m not an inspector, so I can have fun. So the answer is yes.