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A Chat with Andy Hayler, the World's Foremost Fine-Dining Expert

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42 minutes ago, Poivrot Farci said:

Hello Mr. Hayler.

Are you able to sniff out what happens behind the double doors at 3* (and other) venues and would social/environmental/economic factors such as employee benefits,/waste management & energy efficiency; food-seasonality-or-scarcity/how-the-establishment-affects-the-local-economy-for-remote-outposts affect the calculus of your verdict? Should Michelin and other rating agents consider those issues when judging for a consumer base that is perhaps more aware of peripheral consequences and values beyond food, drink, service and upholstery than half a century ago?

In short, no, I have no way of knowing the internal kitchen processes or staff practices of a restaurant. I am a diner and so can judge the end result on my plate, but have no clairvoyant ability to know whether a chef has an energy efficient approach, is good at recycling or is nice to his (or her) staff. I don't see how any outside dining inspection process, whether that be Michelin or another guide, could realistically be expected to have such insider knowledge. Such things are the purview of investigative journalism. Some things can be gleaned from authorities granted such access e.g. in the UK there is a food hygiene rating for every restaurant that is public, and you can look this up before you head to a particular place. This sometimes yields some interesting results, as I discovered a few years back after getting in after eating in a Michelin starred restaurant that turned out to have a surprisingly poor hygiene rating.  However that is only possible because the hygiene inspectors have the authority to do surprise kitchen inspections. 

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Hi Andy --

In all of your travels, do is there any type of cuisine you consider unjustly ignored or overlooked -- hidden gems, or cuisines not given the adulation deserved?  

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Andy,

Thanks again for your wonderful contributions on this thread.  Based on the places you've visited in this country, what would you say are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the kind of fine dining restaurants you seek out and review in the United States?  And where would you place the U.S. on the scale of Michelin standards (from Europe at one end, to some of the newer Asian guides at the other, as you suggested in a previous answer)?  

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2 hours ago, Kanishka said:

Hi Andy --

In all of your travels, do is there any type of cuisine you consider unjustly ignored or overlooked -- hidden gems, or cuisines not given the adulation deserved?  

Good question. Personally, I find Indian cuisine to be one that is generally underrated, though to be fair the standard of it can be pretty ordinary outside India and the UK. If you travel to India you can experience the tremendous diversity of the regional cuisines, from coastal areas like Kerala and Goa through to the more rugged dishes of northern India (Punjab etc) through to the quite different dishes in the south and indeed the northeast of the country e.g. Bengali dishes. The sheer variety is impressive and is particularly good at finding creative ways to showcase vegetables. Doubtless everyone has their own favourite cuisine outside of the mostly French and Japanese places that dominate fine dining these days, but Indian is mine. If I had to eat just one cuisine for the rest of my life I would choose Indian, even though I recognise that there are no Indian restaurants (yet) that have really broken into the upper echelons of fine dining. 

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2 hours ago, Simon said:

Andy,

Thanks again for your wonderful contributions on this thread.  Based on the places you've visited in this country, what would you say are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the kind of fine dining restaurants you seek out and review in the United States?  And where would you place the U.S. on the scale of Michelin standards (from Europe at one end, to some of the newer Asian guides at the other, as you suggested in a previous answer)?  

I have been travelling to the USA since the 1980s, and stopped counting my visits a long time ago when I passed 100 trips there. It is difficult to make sweeping generalisations as there will always be some exception or another to generic statements. However I was discussing this very subject with an American gourmet friend a while back and he observed that in general even the high-end US restaurants tend not to do desserts quite as well as top restaurants in France. To be fair the same statement could be made about just about any country, since a French pastry section in a top class restaurant like Pic in Valence is pretty much unmatched anywhere. Related to that he observed that he was often disappointed in bread in high-end US restaurants compared to France, though I have noticed that less than he had.

Technically there are clearly fine chefs to be found anywhere, as can be seen with the inventiveness shown for example Alinea in Chicago. Beyond the pastry section issue I think it is tricky to generalise. In terms of Michelin, if we compare across countries then I think that although they supposedly have the same standards everywhere, in reality, the guides seem different in different countries, as I mentioned elsewhere in this forum. My observation with the US guides is that they tend to be on the generous side when dishing out stars compared to some other countries (Germany for example seems generally to be marked quite hard by Michelin, by way of contrast). Incidentally, I find the UK to be quite kindly marked too. It is easy to become patriotic about stars, and I have noticed in the UK that many chefs are overly enthusiastic about the standards in British restaurants compared to the reality that I encounter when I travel.

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So what did you think of our local 3 star (inn at little Washington)?  And if you were rating dc restaurants, would you have any 3 or  2 stars, if so, which places?

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8 hours ago, Ericandblueboy said:

So what did you think of our local 3 star (inn at little Washington)?  And if you were rating dc restaurants, would you have any 3 or  2 stars, if so, which places?

That one is in the 2019 guide (the 2019 season of guides has just started), and I will going there in the spring. I have only been a couple of times to Washington D.C., and last time I came I couldn't get in to minibar, so to be honest I am not sure. I did enjoy my time in DC, in particular at Komi. I will certainly do my best to try minibar and Pineapple and Pearls on my next trip. One thing about Michelin producing new guides is that it does encourage me to travel!

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I want to thank Andy for having regaled us with his knowledge, substance, and humility over these past ten days. Tomorrow, Andy's off to Rome, but we won't be saying goodbye: I've decided to start a London Forum, using links to Andy's reviews as a basis for each thread in the forum (he has reviews to over 700 restaurants). We'll have an index, by neighborhood, just like we do for other cities, but the forum itself will be populated - at least at first - to restaurants which Andy reviews. I hope this will be of enormous benefit to any American traveling to London, and members will be, of course, welcome to post their thoughts, just as in any other forum. 

Andy, thank you very much for your time, and it has been a pleasure having you with us. Even though you won't actively be participating, I'm going to leave this chat up for awhile longer, as it has gotten 100% positive feedback, and people really enjoy reading it.

Thank you again, and safe travels to Rome!

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Andy, thanks again for sharing your thoughts, this is really fun to have access to your experiences and opinions.  I wonder what your expectations are for cocktails in a three star restaurant.  Do they differ in that setting from your expectations in a highly rated cocktail bar/speakeasy?  Do you find successful pairings with food courses often, like wine or other beverages?  Many bartenders have had their profile raised in the past decade or so, and I wonder whether you find cocktails to be incidental to a great meal or play a more complex role in three stars.  

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34 minutes ago, DaRiv18 said:

Andy, thanks again for sharing your thoughts, this is really fun to have access to your experiences and opinions.  I wonder what your expectations are for cocktails in a three star restaurant.  Do they differ in that setting from your expectations in a highly rated cocktail bar/speakeasy?  Do you find successful pairings with food courses often, like wine or other beverages?  Many bartenders have had their profile raised in the past decade or so, and I wonder whether you find cocktails to be incidental to a great meal or play a more complex role in three stars.  

Cheers. To be honest I am not really qualified to answer this. I have a WSET advanced qualification in wine so am comfortable to talk about wine lists and wine pairing, but I don't know a great deal about cocktails I'm afraid. The other beverage that is interesting to pair with food is Japanese sake, which I am still learning about.  I'll leave the cocktails to others that are more knowledgeable about them.

42 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

I want to thank Andy for having regaled us with his knowledge, substance, and humility over these past ten days. Tomorrow, Andy's off to Rome, but we won't be saying goodbye: I've decided to start a London Forum, using links to Andy's reviews as a basis for each thread in the forum (he has reviews to over 700 restaurants). We'll have an index, by neighborhood, just like we do for other cities, but the forum itself will be populated - at least at first - to restaurants which Andy reviews. I hope this will be of enormous benefit to any American traveling to London, and members will be, of course, welcome to post their thoughts, just as in any other forum. 

Andy, thank you very much for your time, and it has been a pleasure having you with us. Even though you won't actively be participating, I'm going to leave this chat up for awhile longer, as it has gotten 100% positive feedback, and people really enjoy reading it.

Thank you again, and safe travels to Rome!

Thanks Don. It has been very kind of you to invite me to participate in this forum and I would especially like to thank all the forum members that contributed so many interesting questions and responses to my answers. It has been a real pleasure and I would like to wish you all very happy dining in the future.

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2 hours ago, Andy Hayler said:

Cheers. To be honest I am not really qualified to answer this. I have a WSET advanced qualification in wine so am comfortable to talk about wine lists and wine pairing, but I don't know a great deal about cocktails I'm afraid. The other beverage that is interesting to pair with food is Japanese sake, which I am still learning about.  I'll leave the cocktails to others that are more knowledgeable about them.

Thanks so much for sharing some time with us- I think this is the first time someone on this site said they weren't qualified to answer a question- hahahha.

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On 10/8/2018 at 5:26 PM, Andy Hayler said:

Good question. Personally, I find Indian cuisine to be one that is generally underrated, though to be fair the standard of it can be pretty ordinary outside India and the UK. If you travel to India you can experience the tremendous diversity of the regional cuisines, from coastal areas like Kerala and Goa through to the more rugged dishes of northern India (Punjab etc) through to the quite different dishes in the south and indeed the northeast of the country e.g. Bengali dishes. The sheer variety is impressive and is particularly good at finding creative ways to showcase vegetables. Doubtless everyone has their own favourite cuisine outside of the mostly French and Japanese places that dominate fine dining these days, but Indian is mine. If I had to eat just one cuisine for the rest of my life I would choose Indian, even though I recognise that there are no Indian restaurants (yet) that have really broken into the upper echelons of fine dining. 

Thank you for the informative talk. Sorry that I couldn't participate while it was ongoing but the questions and answers were very engaging. 

There really is a diversity to Indian cuisine which is unknown in the western world. In previous posts, my argument has been that things don't really travel outside of the area and I think that is especially true for Indian cuisine. 

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