For many chefs, Michelin stars represent the apex of culinary excellence, an achievement that validates years of hard work and creativity. But what does a typical day look like for these culinary maestros?
Although no two establishments are alike—in what they serve, how they serve it, and the hours they keep—there are some basic machinations amid the madness that many of the world's best-known chefs and restaurants follow.
Let's embark on the journey into their daily routines.
Rising with the sun
For most Michelin-starred chefs, the early morning hours are their most cherished time away from their acclaimed creations. Late nights satisfying hungry guests lead to a wide range of wake-up calls.
Whatever the specific ritual, the first hours of the day are for a chef to do as they wish—family time, exercise, hobbies, decompress, or meditate quietly before the day's work begins anew.
Mise en place
Being the renowned head of a kitchen or restaurant is very much a full-time job. Being at the restaurant at some point during those early morning hours is often a requirement. It's often the time when that day's "mise en place" begins for that night's service.
Translated from French, it means to gather or put something in its place. In the culinary world, it's the setup, organizing, and arranging of the day's ingredients for preparation in their expected menu.
So, part of the morning routine is coordinating with vendors, taking deliveries, and placing orders to keep the restaurant well-stocked and running smoothly.
The planning begins
Each day is a blank canvas in the rarified air of Michelin-starred high-end cuisine. While many Michelin-starred restaurants will have signature dishes, chefs frequently adapt the menu based on the day's available produce, ensuring a fresh and vibrant dining experience. Sometimes, that begins weeks or months in advance. Other times, a 7 AM epiphany becomes a 7 PM entree.
Great chefs always think about their menus and how to keep things new, exciting, and unexpected. They consider the season, the preferences of expected guests (regulars may have favorite ingredients), and even factors like the weather. After all, a chilly day might call for a heartier dish, while a warm summer afternoon might inspire something light and refreshing. And there are always special events or occasions to consider, which earn their own dedicated level of focus.
In other words, the planning never stops. Michelin-starred restaurants don't earn those stars solely based on their leader's culinary genius but also the team behind them.
While the chef may be laying the groundwork for their next chef's table or prix fixe menu, the kitchen manager might be securing purchases for the following week's slate of reservations, and the sous-chef is moving forward on the day's planned menu.
Quality is the cornerstone of any Michelin-starred dish. To maintain that quality, chefs often have a network of trusted suppliers cultivated over years of collaboration that they call upon to ensure they're always within what helped them secure their Michelin star.
But it's not just about passive transactions. Chefs often engage in vibrant conversations with these suppliers, understanding the nuances of where and how an ingredient was cultivated or caught.
Venturing into local markets is akin to a treasure hunt. They might feel the firmness of a tomato, inhale the earthy aroma of fresh truffles, or admire the vibrant color of just-caught fish. These markets aren't just places to source ingredients; they're hubs of inspiration, often leading to spontaneous menu changes based on a particularly enticing find.
Leading the team
While the Michelin star is often seen as a reflection of an individual chef's talent, an entire team lies behind that emblem of excellence. Usually, a restaurant's accolades are not entirely based on what a chef cooks but on the team they can bring together and what those individuals contribute to the process.
The Michelin-starred chef leads this group of passionate creators, from the sous-chef to the line cook, from the front-of-house maitre d' to the sommelier, whose role extends far beyond crafting world-class dishes.
Chefs of this caliber understand that achieving excellence in what can be a cutthroat business is an ongoing journey. Their own path to the Michelin star was likely paved with guidance from seasoned professionals who imparted wisdom, skill, and passion. And much of their time is dedicated to imparting similar knowledge to those seeking mentoring.
From off-day training sessions to leading by example in the run-up to service, teaching is a critical day-to-day routine. For instance, demonstrating techniques for preparing a perfect soufflé, efficient knife work, or the art of plating raises the kitchen IQ of the back-of-house staff. It ensures a more confident and capable team to manage the restaurant.
Many hats during service
During a busy service night, the Chef's prior planning, preparation, and training pay off with excellent meals, happy diners, and a cohesive, harmonious staff. A chef's service night duties primarily involve overseeing the kitchen—coordinating staff, ensuring quality dishes, and rolling up their sleeves to prepare dishes as necessary.
Indeed, the chef is not just supervising; they're actively involved. They might adjust a seasoning, perfect the placement of a garnish, or guide a junior chef through a particularly intricate dish. Their imprint is evident on every plate that leaves the kitchen.
But a Michelin-starred chef's routine during dinner service is often determined by the type of restaurant they oversee or special events they promote. In luxury dining, especially with establishments graced with Michelin stars, the culinary experience goes well beyond food. It's a multi-sensory narrative, a journey from the farm to the fork. Nothing accentuates this journey better than the chef's personal touch, particularly in restaurants that champion an open kitchen or sponsor the chef's table concept.
An open kitchen allows patrons a peek behind the scenes and chefs and their teams an opportunity to add a more personal touch to the whole affair. A chef's table provides even more intimacy and is a unique concept, offering a select group of diners an unparalleled experience. Situated either within or overlooking the kitchen, it's both exclusive and immersive. Here, the chef doesn't just send out dishes but often presents them personally, sharing tales of insight, inspiration, and sometimes instruction for those wanting to recreate it later.
But even without either of those concepts, many chefs are game to tour the dining room floor, share a brief chat or anecdote with diners, or check in to ensure the diner's satisfaction. The transparency and interaction demystify the culinary process, allowing diners to appreciate the layers of expertise and passion behind the scenes.
Never satisfied with good enough
One of the more interesting aspects of the Michelin-starred restaurant is the quest to keep them after being awarded one, two, or three starts. Most great chefs, though, do not concern themselves with the accolades as their passion for food keeps them and their restaurants evolving and improving (and, by proxy, keeping those coveted stars).
When the Michelin-starred chef isn't working, they're learning and exploring—traveling to uncover new authentic flavors and inspirations, studying to learn new techniques or keep their culinary skills sharp, or experimenting to unlock the secrets to an as-yet-undiscovered dish.
The life and daily routine of a Michelin-starred chef is far from glamorous. It's a relentless pursuit of excellence, demanding long hours and unwavering commitment. But for those who earn that coveted star, a passion fuels their every move. The meticulous attention to detail, the endless pursuit of perfection, and the love for culinary artistry make their journey remarkable.
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