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Michelin Guide Returns To Celebrate Resilience In The Restaurant World

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Michelin Guides have celebrated the best restaurants and best chefs in the U.S. since 2005. They paused during the pandemic, but as restaurants reopen, new guides are on the way, beginning next week with Washington, D.C. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has more.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: In a statement, the international director of the Michelin Guides noted the monumental shift in the restaurant community, requiring everyone to, quote, "pivot" in their own unique way. He said they looked forward to highlighting the accomplishments of the industry's most resilient restaurants, who - despite the toughest year, he said - are still serving.

UNIDENTIFIED INSPECTOR: They may have had to switch to takeout or switch to outdoor dining. They found a way in many, many cases to persevere and to carry on. That's just remarkable to us.

DEL BARCO: The chief inspector for North America of the Michelin Guides is anonymous. Being secretive is a job requirement for him and his team of inspectors that review restaurants. He says they began their visits before the shutdown and resumed as restaurants began opening up for outdoor dining, takeout and then indoor dining. He says the ratings have not changed.

UNIDENTIFIED INSPECTOR: When we talk about awarding one, two or three stars, we're strictly looking at - what is the quality level of the products that are going into the - each composition? Do those flavors - are they united? Is there a harmony of flavors? Are they in conflict, the mastery of technique? And is there a personality that comes through in the cooking?

DEL BARCO: The inspector says they are starting with guides for Washington, D.C., then Chicago and New York, three cities where he estimates a hundred of the 800 or 900 restaurants they were reviewing closed during the pandemic. The guide for California restaurants, which are slowly reopening, will be out soon, though there is not yet a date. He says many restaurants have maintained their high standards, and it's a great time to highlight their accomplishments.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Like, big bottom-grown oysters from our friends in Maine.

DEL BARCO: Providence restaurant in Los Angeles was awarded two stars in 2013. Chef Michael Cimarusti reflects on the guides as he prepares for the evening's service, and he says the guides are valuable and worth the effort, despite all the challenges.

MICHAEL CIMARUSTI: It's still part of their mystique today in the sense that, you know, a three-star restaurant is considered to be a restaurant worth a special journey.

DEL BARCO: His restaurant reopened March 30. That, in and of itself, is something to celebrate.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIIV SONG, "UNDER THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.