There are plenty of concerns about the Michelin Guide’s D.C. debut a month from today. Will I still be able to get a table at (fill in the tasting menu restaurant)? Eventually. Will the prices skyrocket at (fill in the refined Southeast Asian cuisine restaurant)? Maybe. Will the earth pass the sun twice while you wait in line at (fill in the no-reservations restaurant)? Yep.
Are these inconveniences? Sure. But they’re easily eclipsed by one significant benefit Michelin is likely to bring to the District: more help. And that means better food, and better service for diners.
The staffing woes within the D.C. hospitality industry have been well documented, especially as new restaurants blast onto the scene at record pace. That goes for front-of-house workers like hostesses, servers, and food runners as well as back-of-house cooks.
Facebook feeds and job websites are overflowing with calls for more workers. Craigslist, for example, has 2,500 local job listings in the “food, beverage & hospitality” category. Spend an hour or two in any professional kitchen, and the subject is bound to come up.
Relief could very well be on the way, according to local chefs, many of whom have worked in cities with Michelin guides or in Michelin-starred restaurants.
“There’s a constant shortage of talent,” says Rob Rubba, the chef at Hazel who has done plenty of star-gazing working for Gordon Ramsay, Charlie Trotter, Guy Savoy, and more. “I think it will draw in some younger talent. I can tell you as a young cook I went to these Michelin star restaurants for verification. I wanted to work with the best.”
Rubba explains that culinary schools today are still very much rooted in French cooking traditions, and thus the Michelin Guide is highly regarded. “There will be culinary students, front-of-the-house people, aspiring sommeliers that will want to work for restaurants that are validated by what this book says,” Rubba says. “It will draw some more talent down to the city, which we all need right now.”
Chef Scott Drewno of The Source agrees. “When you’re deciding where to live and you’re a cook, you’re young, and you can move around, you want to be in cities with a great food scene,” he says. “The more people outside the city continue to realize we have a strong, thriving hospitality force in this city, people will come.”
Chef Ed Scarpone is living proof that cooks coming up in the culinary world chase job opportunities at starred restaurants. “It could bring an influx of talent to the city,” says the DBGB Kitchen + Bar chef who worked at Café Boulud, a restaurant that has one Michelin star. “That’s why I went to New York. I went to work for Daniel Boulud, no other reason. I really hope it brings talented people to this city.”
While these are encouraging words, the influx of fresh restaurant talent isn’t a guarantee. Just last year there was a lot of buzz (this and this, for example) about major restaurant cities experiencing staff shortages. The cities mentioned in the articles include the other U.S. cities with Michelin Guides: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Like all things Michelin-related, we’ll have to wait and see if a staffing solution comes to fruition.