More Than you can Chew

Pride meets gastronomic ingenuity in Lutz Hachmeister’s interesting, though ultimately shallow documentary, Three Stars. The film follows a number of world-renowned chefs from Europe, Asia and North America. Hachmeister examines both the Michelin star system, and how each respective chef’s hard work earned them a coveted three-star rating. While some people work almost their entire lives to achieve and maintain the Michelin Guide’s three-star rating, there are other chefs who seem to be born for the role. Three Stars invites viewers inside some of the most celebrated restaurants in the world, and examines the history and structure of the Michelin guide, as well as the guts required to be included on the list.

For the uninitiated, the Michelin Guide is the be-all-end-all of food guides. Restaurants awarded with one star are considered noteworthy, with two they are considered worth traveling for, and if they are awarded the coveted three stars they enter the top echelon of internationally recognized restaurants. The star system is highly calculated and chefs must be at the top of their game to receive this honour.

One of the most remarkable things about this film is the differing views between chefs regarding the Michelin guide. For most European chefs, it is the ultimate honour, but for Asian chefs, such as Hideki Ishikawa of Japan, the Michelin guide is of little importance. The guide was only recently introduced to the Asian market, and honored many chefs with three stars. However, Ishikawa notes that he only cares if his customers return. His pride is in his work and his customer’s reactions, not some arbitrary judgment from an outside party.

The film plays a balancing act, jumping between calm, often insightful interviews with the chefs and the frenetic energy of their kitchens. In this arena, no chef is truly alike. Ishikawa’s small kitchen is one of calm preparation, where he high-fives his staff on the way out. Travel to France and it’s a different story, alarms are ringing, staff are being reprimanded and everyone moves in a whirlwind of barely contained chaos. We also meet Italy’s Nadia Santini, one of only 6 women (as of 2010) to earn three stars, who fosters a close knit and calm environment in her kitchen. Santini notes that she could never work in such a hectic environment. We watch her walk through her garden, picking weeds and herbs with her grandmother and coaching younger chefs, a startling change from the cold and calculated portrayals of other kitchens. And of course, like anything focused on culinary subjects, the entire film is ripe with food porn. We are treated to a visual feast of gorgeous platings, ingenious pairings and clever creations.

Food porn aside, this promising film suffers from its lack of focus. The arena of international cuisine is so vast, that the film accomplishes little more than giving audiences a surface reading of the industry. Hachmeister would have done better to focus on a specific restaurant, or type of cuisine in relation to the Michelin guide, rather than taking in so many chefs and restaurants that it was hard to tell one from the other. Those interested in a more focused look at chefs who have earned three stars would do better to watch a film that examines one subject, such as Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

While I cannot recommend this film to everyone, Three Stars still has some merit. Serious foodies may be interested in seeing exclusive interviews with top chefs and learn their different cooking philosophies, but the general viewer will most likely be lost in the hustle and bustle.