The Michelin guide revealed its results for Belgium and Luxembourg last Monday and in the process created a storm of controversy in the Belgian media and social media. The controversy centres around the move of chef Alexandre Dionisio from his own restaurant Alexandre (now closed) to La Villa in the Sky which opened earlier this month.
When Michelin announced the results for Brussels they mentioned that new restaurants had earned a one Michelin star, Le Monde est Petit, Le Pigeon Noir and Da Mimmo. They, however, failed to mention that the restaurant by Alexandre Dionisio called Alexandre (we were there a few months before this website was launched and ate incredibly well, though it has since closed) was no longer in the list and instead the award had moved with Alexandre to La Villa in the Sky.
For those who have missed the new Michelin releases, there were new one Michelin star announcements (See all the list here) with no new two and three Michelin star restaurants.
Michelin has in the meantime, in view of the controversy which erupted after this news, said that they had gone to Alexandre three times during the course of the year. They noted that the chef and his whole team had moved to La Villa in the Sky, a restaurant that has opened just a few weeks ago in the same city and hence there was no reason to remove his one star given the chef is still in charge of the kitchen and cooking there with the same team (both in the kitchen and outside).
While Michelin might not have done this intentionally, social media in Belgium as well as the press have again called into question the independence of Michelin and reminding us of the time when, in 2005, Michelin had awarded the Ostend Queen a Bib Gourmand. This was done when the restaurant had not yet opened and solely on the basis of a dossier presented to them.
In this case, Alexandre Dionisio needs no introduction in Belgium. He became known for participating in Top Chef reaching the semi-final phase following which he opened his restaurant Alexandre in 2010 close to Brussels institution Comme chez Soi. But he has worked at Le Passage (1 Michelin star), Comme Chez Soi (2 Michelin stars) and Sea Grill (two Michelin stars). He was also awarded the best young chef in Brussels by Gault & Millau in 2013.
So the question that needs to be asked is whether Michelin was justified in awarding La Villa in the Sky, the restaurant Alexandre is working on together with Serge Litvine, the owner of the Villa Lorraine (another Brussels institution)?
There is no question on the fact that a star normally follows a chef. If a chef opens a new restaurant using the same name in that restaurant, the stars follow automatically. This has happened with Hertog Jan, L’Air du Temps and Kamo to give three recent Belgian examples. This to us is completely understandable.
But what happens when there is a name change? Should everything be re-evaluated again? Should the printed guide wait for the inspectors to visit a place (i.e. not list a new restaurant) and then update the guide online for example once they have reviewed the restaurant? What impact would this have on the restaurant? To us it would also seem legitimate for the star to still follow a chef, if, as happened in the case of Alexandre Dionisio, the whole team moved together from one place to another.
The problem would, to our view, emerge if a chef decided to open a second or subsequent restaurant using his name without frequently cooking in that restaurant. In that case, if the restaurant was awarded a star or award without being reviewed that would constitute a problem. But this clearly is not the case.
The issue centres around the power of guides. We know they are important but at the end of the day, a lot of it is about subjectivity. In this case, however, we think this is just a storm in a teacup.