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Interview with Andy Hayler - the only Food writer who visited all 3 Michelin Star restaurants worldwide
- Monday, 12 August 2013 21:29 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
I am author of "The London Transport Restaurant Guide" and am a freelance food writer for various publications. I was a guest critic on the first four series of BBC's "Masterchef: The Professionals," and I wrote the Paris section of National Geographic's "Food Journeys of the World," published in 2009.
Over the last 20 or so years I have been eating in restaurants three to six times a week. I have been lucky enough to travel widely, and I always try to eat well, so I have added notes on the various restaurants I have been to, from the USA (which I have visited over 100 times) to India, which I have been to 14 times.
In 2004, I completed eating at every 3 star Michelin restaurant in the world at the time, a journey that was reported in the press as far afield as Taiwan and Australia and made it to French National TV. I caught up with Michelin in 2008, and again in 2010 and 2012 in terms of eating at all the three star restaurants at that time.
1. Tesi: There are 109 Three-Star Michelin restaurants on this planet but only one Andy Hayler. Can you tell me more about yourself and where your passion for outstanding restaurants comes from?
Andy: My passion for good food developed when I travelled extensively whilst working for Shell. As a business traveller, you naturally eat out a lot. I understood quickly that this job would give me the opportunity to discover restaurants I would never have seen if I had taken a less travel-intensive job. Because of this, my curiosity was awakened as to what restaurants have to offer. That resulted in my first book, The London Transport Restaurant Guide. Through that work it became clear that I had a deep passion for both enjoying outstanding food and writing about it.
So, the idea was born to set up my website and publish my notes around my restaurant visits. As I added more and more content, I realised that the traffic increased on the website and people, including chefs, developed an interest in my reviews, which encouraged me to continue my hobby.
As my interest was always to visit the best restaurants around the world, in 2004 I had the idea to visit all of the Three-Star Michelin restaurants. I have to say that this was more doable at that time as there were only 49 restaurants, and all of them were located in Europe. It wasn’t until 2006 that the first restaurants outside Europe – in New York – were given the Three-Star Michelin award, but now there are 109 Michelin-Starred restaurants around the world. It became a bit complicated to keep up with the growing list of restaurants and visit all these places, but so far I have managed to do that as of the end of 2012. To my knowledge, I’m the only person who has visited all these restaurants.
After a while, my hobby turned into a business, which I manage alongside my software business. In addition to my website and software company, I do some work for TV shows, such as MasterChef, and I’m also the food critic for the magazine Elite Traveler.
2. Tesi: Having eaten at more than 1500 restaurants is an enormous achievement. Have you become used to the luxury of well-prepared food, or do you still treasure and remember every single restaurant visit?
Andy: For the past 20 years, I’ve been going to restaurants at least three or four times a week. I’m always very keen to try out new places at all levels and to discover new places, cuisines, and flavours. I don’t think I can remember all of the dishes from the last two decades, but there are surely dishes I will never forget, and – yes – I treasure these memories very much!
One dinner I remember was prepared by Chef Marc Veyrat. He was truly one of the innovators of modern cooking. That dinner was more than 10 years ago, but I will never forget the flavours and how the food was presented. The evening I spent in Marco Pierre White’s restaurant Harveys in Wandsworth is another example. I would not forget these dishes in a long time.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that different countries have rather different three-Star Michelin standards, although the standard is supposed to be identical globally. For example, Germany is a Michelin Star market with very high standards. Many restaurants with one star in Germany would get two stars in, say, New York. The new Michelin Star markets in Asia are less even than in Europe. The Hong Kong guide, as the most extreme example, is less reliable than the French or UK guide. All of these details, together with the fact that I have chosen Michelin as my guiding point, helps me to remember those outstanding restaurants, dishes, and evenings.
Tesi: Why have you chosen to focus on Michelin as your guiding point?
Andy: That’s a very good question. I think it’s the most consistent and most global guide that exists. There are other guidebooks but they are rarely global, and if they are global, they are heavily influenced by PR agencies, which makes their assessments less reliable.
I see the Michelin guide a bit like Churchill’s saying on democracy: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried”. At least it has professional, anonymous inspectors, and does not take advertising or hidden fees.
3. Tesi: There might be not many other people who have seen so many well-prepared plates and tasted so many haute cuisines but who have also seen so many mistakes from places you expect perfection in food and hospitality. What would be your advice for the young generation of chefs and gastronomic entrepreneurs on how to stand out and be recognised?
Andy: I always rate a restaurant on which ingredients are used, how the food is presented, how the dishes are prepared, and if the whole dish makes sense – if it’s balanced and in harmony. My advice to the next generation of gastronomic entrepreneurs who desire to get a Michelin Star is to concentrate on these four criteria.
Having the best ingredients is something only a handful of restaurants can claim, as it is extremely expensive and time-intensive to source and buy the best. Finding the right supplier, building a good business relationship with them, and getting the ingredients at exactly the right time takes an enormous amount of time, passion, and skill. Japan, for example, has many micro seasons, and the best Japanese restaurants change their menus with the seasons. This way, they can offer ingredients only when the product has reached its absolute peak of freshness. Another example can be found with pigeons. The quality of the bird can only be judged while it is whole, but most restaurants source theirs already prepared so you have little idea of the quality of the birds selected. ,, This means a chef who is absolutely dedicated to offering the best quality product will need to source these birds whole, which is common in France but virtually unknown in the UK.
When it comes to presenting a dish, many chefs make the mistake of overcomplicating the presentation by overloading the plate with too many ingredients. Perfectly balanced simplicity is absolutely key from my point of view, but it is very hard to achieve.
When it comes to preparation methods and technical skills, the biggest challenge is to guarantee consistency. Most restaurants continue to operate while the head chef is on holiday, which too often ends up in an inconsistent standard. I have to use Japan again as an example of utmost dedication to the highest standards of consistency. In the best restaurants of Japan, it would be unthinkable that the chef is not present in the kitchen. Some restaurants even shut down when the chef can’t be present because a consistent standard can’t be achieved, such as the 3 star Hotel de Ville in Switzerland.
Finally, I rate the “harmony” of a dish extremely high. Similar to overloading the presentation, some chefs try to achieve complexity by adding too many flavours to the dish, which can destroy its harmony, no matter how good the ingredients. Michael Guerard holds three Michelin Stars for over 35 years. He very rarely uses more than three elements per plate, but these elements are impeccably sourced and cooked, and the falvours always go together well.
All chefs who really want to stand out and become world-class calibre should understand the importance of these criteria, as they are the pillars of great cooking. Taking these criteria seriously can be very inspiring.
4. Tesi: Oscar Wilde once said, “I'm a man of simple tastes. I'm always satisfied with the best.”
Would you support this message?
Andy: (laughs) Yes, I support this message. I love when a dish is the result of simple cooking using the best available ingredients combined to create a perfectly balanced flavour experience.
5. Tesi: If you could give one “Hayler Star” to five restaurants in the world, which five restaurants would you pick and why?
Andy: That is a tough question. There are many excellent restaurants in the world, and defining my personal Top Five is not easy. However, if I would only have five “Hayler Stars” to offer to the best restaurants at present, these would be my candidates, in no particular order.
- Ledoyen in Paris combines superb ingredients, great presentation and flawless cooking in a pretty setting.
- Le Calandre in Italy would be the best meal I ate in 2012. I love the classical cooking style of this place.
- Hotel de Ville in Switzerland is also a place that offers classical and “old fashioned” dishes.
- Ryugin in Japan is my number four. It represents the future ofJapanese cuisine.
- And finally, I choose Hotel Sonnora in Germany. The restaurant consistently offers perfectly presented dishes made with impeccable ingredients!
6. Tesi: What does good food mean to you?
Andy: Good food means a great pleasure of life. An evening in good company with a good wine and good food is the best way to enjoy life. Life is simply too short not to enjoy good food!
Thank you very much for the interview!
More information: http://www.andyhayler.com