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The three-star circus: Michelin-starred chefs 'wildly over-egged', says Richard Harden

By Luke Nicholls , 29-Feb-2012
Last updated on 06-Mar-2012 at 17:51 GMT

Richard Harden, co-founder of the Harden’s Restaurant Guide, has slammed rival guide book Michelin, claiming the business is only involved in the restaurant industry for publicity and that The Michelin Guide ‘falls in love with the chefs it creates’.

Speaking on The Stage at Hotelympia yesterday in a discussion entitled ‘Richard Harden tells it like it is’, Harden, who founded the Guide with brother Peter 21 years ago, claimed that Michelin’s view of the restaurant world often diverges from the real view.

“Perhaps the inspectors are blinded by the fame of the chefs,” he said. “But if you compare our results with those of Michelin, you tend to find that the three-Michelin-starred chefs tend to be wildly over-egged by Michelin, going on year-to-year in a way that doesn’t seem supportable.

“Michelin then falls in love with the chefs that it’s created. When a chef gets three Michelin stars they tend to become a great media personality. If you look at almost all the chefs, with the possible exception of the Roux brothers, the ones who’ve got Michelin stars have become media personalities.

Three-star circus

“It’s a wonderful circular dance: Michelin build the chef up, the chef builds Michelin up, and if you’re in the business only for publicity - which is Michelin’s only possible justification for its involvement - then that’s maybe an explanation as to why this three-star circus goes on.

“It’s rather discouraging and unfair for those outside of the three-star circus, because it means that they’re not necessarily getting the crack of the whip which they may deserve.”

Critics, bloggers and Twitter

Harden also downplayed the importance of restaurant critics and bloggers, suggesting that people outside of their world don’t have an interest in what they say.

“People often assume that restaurant critics that write for the major newspapers are a very good source of information on the whole area of restaurant criticism and guides,” he said.

“Our experience is almost exactly the contrary; that they all have very particular interests, normally from a position of some insecurity, and that they can’t bear the fact that anybody else can have any opinions about the subject they write about.

“I also don’t know how many people outside the blogging world take that much interest in what people in the blogging world say. I have a feeling there’s lots of people talking very excitedly to each other. And I think the Twitter verse is very similar.”

Harden’s claims to provide ‘the UK’s most authoritative restaurant reviews’, with over 8,000 selected contributors to over 80,000 reviews per year nationwide.Last month, BigHospitality reported that Mayfair restaurant Le Gavroche, run by celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr, topped the London list of restaurants in Harden’s annual survey.

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