In the wake of the announcement that the Michelin Guide would be coming to Vancouver, there was a surprising amount of moaning and groaning going on – talk of the pressure of either chasing or maintaining a star and how that can create a hostile working environment, accelerate burnout and bring out the worst in some. But very little of the groaning seemed to be coming from working pros. I thought I should throw my two cents into the universe with a cook’s perspective on the coming of Michelin…
The hospitality industry is on the precipice of disaster. It’s no secret that between high rents, inflation, the pandemic and shifting work culture, restaurants are REALLY struggling to make ends meet right now. Although it may not be blatantly obvious to those outside of the industry, the signs of a serious market correction are digging their heels in: counter service is getting incredibly popular, restaurants are dropping like flies, hours are being reduced, and big chain restaurants are tightening their grips on the market. Even if you have a ‘laissez faire’ attitude about what’s happening, I must warn you that these shifts will erode the foundations of our industry and, ultimately, our culture will suffer.
Although I’m sure the Guide will not be unveiled without its controversies, I think it will have a seriously positive effect on fine dining establishments that have been just scraping by over the last few years. The Guide will validate their efforts and afford them some breathing room – both in terms of sales (the inevitable increase in diners that will come with the accolades will help to keep the cogs of these restaurants oiled and turning) and staffing. This last point is particularly important because, not only do these restaurants offer some of the best dining experiences, they also serve as an incubator for the talent of the future. Take a look around to see where the alumni from places like Lumiere, Chambar and The Pear Tree have ended up. High-end shops are a critical part of the cultural ecosystem in our city, and they are essential to advancing the industry at all levels. Ambitious hospitality workers want to cut teeth at the best places. Having an internationally recognized ranking in our city will help keep top talent in Vancouver (as much as it will attract it from abroad). This strengthens our industry’s chance for success.
As a young cook coming up in this city, I faced some serious hurdles. I barely made enough money to cover my expenses and had very little free time. My aspirations of leaving Vancouver for ‘greener pastures and better kitchens’ were held hostage by these abysmal paycheques and lack of time. I felt trapped. It would have changed my life if I had the opportunity to work at a local, world-renowned restaurant. I’ll wager that I’m not the only ambitious young person to face these challenges or have these dreams. Things are tough out there, but that doesn’t make any of us love our craft any less. We want to continue to hone our skills and broaden our horizons.
Whether we like it or not, the Guide is coming. I think it’s a good thing – it opens up the horizons to excel. I encourage anyone who doesn’t earn their living off the buzz of a busy dining room to keep an open mind about it, leave a fair tip, and ask a restaurant worker if they’re doing okay. This won’t be the solution to all of our problems, but it’s a bump in a positive direction, and I’m excited for all of the hard working people out there who are about to be recognized for their dedication.