Atlanta, a city with a rich and diverse culinary scene, has finally received its first Michelin guide, which awards stars to restaurants that demonstrate excellence in cooking, service, and ambiance. However, the guide has sparked controversy and disappointment among some critics and diners, who noticed that none of the restaurants that received a star are Black-owned or led by a Black chef. This is despite the fact that Atlanta is a majority-Black city, where traditional African American cuisine is a crucial part of the local food culture.
Is it Racism or Culture?
Some have accused Michelin of racism and bias, arguing that the guide overlooks the contributions and innovations of Black chefs and restaurateurs, who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in the fine dining industry. They point out that very few Black chefs have ever been awarded a Michelin star in the history of the guide, which spans over a century and covers more than 30 countries.
They also question the criteria and standards that Michelin uses to evaluate restaurants, which they claim are Eurocentric and elitist, and do not reflect the diversity and creativity of Atlanta’s food scene.
Others, however, have offered a different perspective, suggesting that the lack of stars for Black-owned restaurants in Atlanta has more to do with the cultural and social factors that affect the restaurant business in the city. They cite the example of rapper Jeezy, who once owned a high-end steakhouse called American Cut in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood.
According to Jeezy, the restaurant was a classy and upscale establishment, until he revealed his ownership in a radio interview. After that, he said, the restaurant turned into a “Freaknik”, a reference to the notorious spring break festival that attracted thousands of Black college students to Atlanta in the 1990s.
Jeezy said that he saw people he used to hustle with in the restaurant, trying to smoke weed and turn it into a club-like atmosphere. He implied that his announcement of ownership changed the perception and behavior of his customers, who no longer respected the restaurant as a fine dining venue.
Jeezy’s story illustrates the challenges and dilemmas that Black restaurant owners face in Atlanta, where they have to balance their identity, reputation, and clientele. Some Black restaurant owners may choose to keep their ownership private, to avoid attracting unwanted attention or criticism from their peers or the public.
Others may embrace their ownership, but risk losing the quality and integrity of their restaurant, as well as the recognition and respect of the industry. Either way, they may find it harder to achieve the level of excellence and consistency that Michelin requires for its stars.
The debate over Michelin’s first guide to Atlanta reflects the complex and nuanced issues that surround the restaurant industry in the city, and in the country at large. It also raises questions about the role and relevance of Michelin in the contemporary food world, where diversity, inclusion, and innovation are increasingly valued and celebrated.
Whether Michelin will adapt and evolve to reflect these changes, or stick to its traditional and conservative approach, remains to be seen.