The new California statewide Michelin Guide may be a nod to the state's culinary interests. But it could also be the result of a smart play by Visit California, a tourism organization, in the style of Singapore, Thailand, and other destinations who have partnered with the Guides.
— Kristen Hawley
On Tuesday, Michelin announced a new guide covering the entire state of California, expanding beyond its current San Francisco/Bay Area guide. Coverage will extend from San Diego to the Bay Area, covering, of course, Los Angeles but also Orange County, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Sacramento.
The guide, which was announced at an event in Sacramento, is a partnership with Visit California, the state tourism board. So while the reintroduction of Los Angeles as a Michelin-reviewed city is certainly grabbing headlines, the subplot speaks to a larger theme: tourism board partnerships can net Michelin Guide coverage.
As reported by Eater last year, destinations have spent millions funding partnerships with Michelin to bring guides to their areas. Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand have all reportedly paid to partner with the guide, though each deal has its nuances and complexities, and some aren’t directly linked to state-funded tourism organizations, according to the piece.
While terms of the Michelin/Visit California partnership were not disclosed (and neither Visit California nor Michelin representatives returned requests for comment), these sorts of agreements leading to new coverage are becoming a trend.
New Michelin Guide director Gwendal Poullennec told Skift Table last November that the Guide would be undergoing a significant amount of expansion under his leadership, both in the U.S. and internationally.
“Our ambition is to release two or three new editions every year, and as we’ve done in the past five years, to expand the step-by-step Michelin guides, and once again to explore and to discover the talents wherever they are,” he said.
Reaction to the new guide across the state of California from chefs and media has been largely positive, though Michelin has a checkered past within the city of Los Angeles. Michelin’s 2008 Los Angeles guide was criticized by then-area critics Jonathan Gold and Leslie Brenner for mistakes and omissions, among other troubles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Michelin published only two editions of its guide, leaving the L.A. area starless since 2009.
In and outside of food circles, Los Angeles has been heralded as one of the best culinary destinations in the country, unseating San Francisco and its wine country neighbors to the north as the center of the California restaurant scene. Last year, the New York Times hired Tejal Rao as dedicated California restaurant critic in a nod to the importance of the state’s restaurant landscape.
With this new guide, Michelin brings star ratings to markets who don’t necessarily want them. New San Francisco restaurant critic Soleil Ho is the latest to do away with star ratings in the state; Jonathan Gold famously ditched stars in L.A. years ago. Given California’s vast and varied restaurant makeup, comparing apples to apples (or white tablecloths to taco stands) could prove challenging.
The official press release announcing the new California guide doesn’t hide the partnership, nor the state’s involvement in the project. “California and Michelin are a perfect pairing, joining forces to show the world the innovation and breadth of the Golden State’s culinary landscape,” said Visit California president and CEO Caroline Beteta in a statement.
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