The Secretive Life of a Michelin Inspector

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sam Kashner delves into the mysterious world of Michelin stars in the new issue of Vanity Fair, talking to top chefs about what it takes to gain—and keep—the restaurant world’s highest honor. Although restaurant critics are often recognized, Michelin inspectors remain virtually unknown. Kashner spoke on the phone with one inspector (even he wasn’t allowed to know her name), who described her life on the road, eating at least 200 restaurant meals a year.

When you start as a Michelin inspector, your first weeks of training are abroad, she says. “You go to the mother ship in France. Depending on your language skills, maybe you go to another European country and train with an inspector there.” There’s no prescribed path to becoming a food inspector, “though inspectors are all lifers in one way or another,” she explained, and they usually come from families devoted to food and the table. “One inspector was a chef at a very well-known, three-star restaurant, another came from a hotel…. I think you’re either built for this or you’re not,” she added. “You have to really be an independent personality. You have to be somewhat solitary but also work as part of a team. You have to be comfortable dining alone. Most of the time, I think, inspectors all live in a perpetual state of paranoia. That’s the job: the C.I.A. but with better food.”

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Further Reading:

“Lunch With M” (The New Yorker, ’09)

John Colapinto joins an undercover Michelin inspector (code name: Maxime) for lunch at New York’s Jean Georges restaurant.

The Fears of Our Nation: President Obama Interviews Marilynne Robinson

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The President: How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?

Robinson: Well, I don’t know how seriously they do take their Christianity, because if you take something seriously, you’re ready to encounter difficulty, run the risk, whatever. I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously. I don’t know—I mean, this has happened over and over again in the history of Christianity, there’s no question about that, or other religions, as we know.

But Christianity is profoundly counterintuitive—“Love thy neighbor as thyself”—which I think properly understood means your neighbor is as worthy of love as you are, not that you’re actually going to be capable of this sort of superhuman feat. But you’re supposed to run against the grain. It’s supposed to be difficult. It’s supposed to be a challenge.

The President: Well, that’s one of the things I love about your characters in your novels, it’s not as if it’s easy for them to be good Christians, right?

Robinson: Right.

At The New York Review of Books, President Obama interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, a conversation he requested to have after becoming a fan of her novels. As a companion to this interview, read her recent essay, “Fear,” a rumination on American history, religious history, guns, violence, war, and her deeply held Christian beliefs.

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When Coltrane Explored New Terrain in the Pacific Northwest

Photo by @HayeurJF, Flickr

In the Seattle Weekly, Steve Griggs writes about John Coltrane’s first and only performances in Seattle, at the 225-seat Penthouse club, in 1965. Griggs provides a snapshot of the saxophonist’s life following his groundbreaking album A Love Supreme, during a period of artistic transition. Coltrane was usually in transition. He was expanding his sound again in Seattle.

Seattle disk jockey Jim Wilke sat near the stage that night, set to broadcast the first 30 minutes on KING-AM. His introduction of the show, broadcast from the club, went out over the airwaves like a countdown to liftoff. Meanwhile, Coltrane had hired [drummer Jan “Kurtis”] Skugstad, who had a studio with portable equipment, to record the evening’s performance. With all the club, radio, and studio gear, there were more microphone stands onstage than musicians. Coltrane briefly borrowed Wilke’s headphones to check the broadcast sound. Handing them back, he informed the DJ that the song was going to last longer than the half-hour broadcast. Meanwhile, Skugstad kept feeding fresh reels into his recorder, capturing every detail of the performance.

The first set on Thursday clocked in just shy of two hours, with the first number lasting an hour and a half.

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In Search of a Separate Peace: Five Stories About Communes

Photo: Jodie Gallagher

What is the purpose, the lure, of communal living? Why have the residents of different communes in United States chosen isolation over convenience? In these five stories, you’ll meet men and women—many, members in the LGBTQIA+ community—who have chosen, with mixed results, to dedicate themselves to their chosen families.

1. “They Built It. No One Came.” (Penelope Green, New York Times, May 2015)

They changed their names and called themselves the Harmonists, rescuing and repurposing Colonial-era dwellings in Pennsylvania. Their numbers never swelled more than two. Can Zephram and Johannes make peace with their failed enterprise? Read more…

‘The Exorcist,’ My Father and Me

Photo: Fernando Rodríguez

So often, we hear stories of people who get help just in time. They hit rock bottom and manage to climb back up. At Electric Literature, Adam Sturtevant has written “That Thing: A True Story Based on ‘The Exorcist.'” It is a terrifying yet beautiful meditation on the impotence of love in the face of an all-too-real demon—alcoholism:

Before performing an exorcism, it must be determined by a qualified priest whether or not the possession is authentic. There are a few ways to do this. A victim speaking fluently in a language he or she has never studied, for example, serves as proof that an outside spirit is at work, as opposed to a disorder of the mind.

One evening, as my mother and I were serving ourselves dinner, the old man staggered into the kitchen. In a stained, wrinkled T-shirt and sweatpants, his hair plastered to his head with sweat, every part of his body swollen and mottled, he looked about eighty years old, though he was only fifty-eight. Wearing that dazed, content look on his face, he opened the freezer and refilled his glass, then slowly shuffled back to his throne.

I had to do something, but there was a question standing in the way. Was it was a conscious act, destroying himself like this, or was he powerless against the booze? If he was powerless, that meant we could help him. We could call an ambulance, get him to a hospital, check him into rehab. But what if he didn’t want our help? What if he wanted to die? 

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Image courtesy of Mother Jones
Image courtesy of Mother Jones

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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How Veganism Went Mainstream

Photo by Oregon Department of Forestry, Flickr

It’s as if vegans collectively realized that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, or at least that you spread the message more easily when you don’t start preaching about how eating honey represents an exploitation of bees. Vegans like Mr. Ronnen, Ms. Piatt and Mr. Roll remain highly fluent in the political arguments for plant-based eating, but they’re less likely to be sanctimonious about it, Mr. Ronnen said.

And nonvegans, in turn, seem less likely to be dismissive. Chad Sarno, a 39-year-old chef and culinary educator in Austin, Tex., remembers a time when you’d step into a restaurant and “you would say the vegan word and the chef would look at you like you had three heads and just got off the commune.” Now, with influential nonvegan chefs like David Kinch and Alain Passard rhapsodizing about the glory of vegetables, the dialogue has shifted. “Plants are so sexy,” Mr. Sarno said.

Jeff Gordinier, writing in The New York Times about how veganism has crossed from the subversive, co-op fringe into mainstream America, with delicious new strains of cooking and marketing attracting people concerned with nutrition, physical appearances and activism.

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Hallowed Ground: Patti Smith on Visiting the Prison of Jean Genet’s Dreams

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

We were entering a military zone and hit a checkpoint. The driver’s identity card was inspected and after an interminable stretch of silence we were ordered to get out of the car. Two officers searched the front and back seats, finding a switchblade with a broken spring in the glove box. That can’t be so bad, I thought, but as they knocked on the trunk our driver became markedly agitated. Dead chickens? Maybe drugs. They circled around the car, and then asked him for the keys. He threw them in a shallow ravine and bolted but was swiftly wrestled to the ground. I glanced sidelong at Fred. He betrayed no emotion and I followed his lead.

They opened the trunk. Inside was a man who looked to be in his early 30s curled up like a slug in a rusting conch shell. He seemed terrified as they poked him with a rifle and ordered him to get out. We were all herded to the police headquarters, put in separate rooms, and interrogated in French. The commander arrived, and we were brought before him. He was barrel-chested with dark, sad eyes and a thick mustache that dominated his careworn face. Fred quickly took stock of things. I slipped into the role of compliant female, for in this obscure annex of the Foreign Legion it was definitely a man’s world. I watched silently as the human contraband, stripped and shackled, was led away. Fred was ordered into the commander’s office. He turned and looked at me. Stay calm was the message telegraphed from his pale blue eyes.

-From Vogue‘s excerpt of M Train, Patti Smith’s new memoir, in which she and her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, make a pilgrimage to the remains of the French penal colony in northwest French Guiana where Jean Genet longed to be imprisoned, which he wrote about in The Thief’s Journal. Smith collected stones there, to bring to Genet.

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