Gentle Reader, this may sound like heresy but is the Michelin guide a reasonable standard by which to judge chefs?
With the release of the Hong Kong/Macau guide recently, Joel Robuchon has opened up a substantial lead on his erstwhile colleagues - with 24 stars around the world compared to Alain Ducasse on 16, dear old Gordon on 12, and Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se etc) on 7.
But if one works some alchemy with the math to derive my proprietary "star index", it very much looks like ubiquity (being everywhere) is not a substitute for quality (concentrating on the food). Keller, with 5 locations and 7 stars , tops the list. Robuchon (16 locations) stays in the black, but Ducasse (19) and Ramsay (21) seem more like businesses than chefs. While Zagat represents brutish democracy and should be shunned, one feels that Michelin needs to somehow get into the global village and provide we humble diners with a more "international" view.
It's a matter of some personal shame that I haven't eaten at one of Chef Keller's establishments, although I threatened to do so last year until - ever your intrepid aviator - I was shot down by the Red (Ink) Baron. We also stood a small chance of having him visit Tokyo last year, but that horse fell at the final jump. Still, I look forward to the day when we can see all of the top 4 chefs battling for wallet share in Japan.
M. Robuchon is an enigmatic character: he learned to love cooking while in boarding school. That strikes me as a rather rum piece of hagiography - when has boarding school food ever been known to excite passion? More than that, Gentle Reader ... having got his 3rd star in Paris he just up and closed his restaurant in 1996. All rather too much, he confessed.
Today, a mere handful of times around the sun later, he's the primus inter pares of the world's chefs with a much simpler approach to elegance and sophistication. His restaurants range from L'Atelier (workshop) to La Table (Table) to La Cuisine (Kitchen). And his empire extends even further than Alexander's or Octavian's - with locations in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, New York, Paris, London and perhaps Tel Aviv, he must have more frequent flyer miles than Condeleeza Rice.
Ramsay, or "Chef", is also busier than a ram on shearing day ... no, wait, I'm confusing work and play. But with the Gordon Ramsay Group extending into pubs and bars and even airline food, you've got to wonder how he fits it all in. Ducasse's dedication I respect, although the Benoit deal here in Tokyo was perhaps a bridge too far.
Note: Twenty One, closed down in unfortunate circumstances, has re-opened at the Shinjuku Hilton as La Pergolese Tokyo. Your Humble Correspondent will toddle along shortly, so stay tuned.