A star is born: Michelin makes its first selections in Argentina

After months of anticipation, the restaurant guide honored several eateries in Buenos Aires and Mendoza at a gala Friday night

And the Michelin star goes to…

On Friday night, Michelin, the French tire company and owner of the world’s most prestigious restaurant guidebook, announced its starred selections for Buenos Aires and Mendoza. The evening’s big winner was Aramburu in Recoleta, which earned two stars. Earlier this week, The Best Chef ranked the restaurant’s chef, Gonzalo Aramburu, as the 89th best in the world for 2023.

Don Julio in Palermo and Trescha in Villa Crespo were each awarded one star, as were Zonda, Casa Vigil, Brindillas, and Azafrán, all in the city of Mendoza. Seven restaurants in Buenos Aires garnered a Bib Gourmand distinction for quality food at moderate prices (Anafe, Bis Bistró, Caseros, La Alacena Trattoria, Mengano, Reliquia, and República del Fuego), and seven others a Michelin green star for sustainable practices (Anchoita, Crizia, Don Julio, and El Preferido de Palermo in Buenos Aires; Casa Vigil, Riccitelli Bistró, and Zonda Cocina de Paisaje in Mendoza).

Fifty-seven Argentine restaurants received a recommendation in the guidebook. Argentina is the first Spanish-speaking country in Latin America to be included in the guide’s pages.

The names were revealed at the “Star Revelation 2024” gala in La Boca’a Arena Studios Friday night. Argentine Tourism and Sports Minister Matías Lammens, who publicized Argentina’s agreement with Michelin in July, was on hand to celebrate the occasion.

“This is a very important day for Mendoza and for Buenos Aires, but also for Argentina, because tourism is the sector that generates the most jobs in the country,” Lammens told the news agency Télam. “Today, we showed that Argentina’s talent is infinite.”

“This will undoubtedly generate more tourism and make Argentine gastronomy more visible. We are convinced that Argentina is the gastronomic capital of South America,” he added.

Michelin determines its selections anonymously, and its criteria include consistency, food quality, flavor harmony, mastery in cooking techniques, and the personality of the chef on display. According to the guide, one star is assigned to restaurants that exhibit “high quality cuisine worth stopping for,” two for “high quality cuisine worth a detour,” and three for “high quality cuisine worth a journey.”

While Argentina is breaking new culinary ground, this is not the first time that Michelin has recognized the nation’s top chefs. Mauro Colagreco and Agustín Balbi, who The Best Chef ranks 31 and 46, respectively, have each received Michelin stars — Colagreco for Mirazur on the Côte Bleue in France, among other establishments, and Balbi for the Spanish-Japanese restaurant Ando in Hong Kong. Other chefs, including Germán Carrizo of Mendoza and Courito Lourenco of Córdoba, have earned the honor as well.

Because the Michelin guide attracts fine diners from across the globe, the announcement is expected to be a boon for the nation’s tourism industry, although the exact effect is difficult to predict, especially in a country where annual inflation stands at over 143%. A 2019 study from the accounting firm Ernst & Young found that 61% of travelers were more likely to visit a destination with a Michelin-rated restaurant than one without.

Michelin under a microscope

Still, several industry insiders have raised questions about the guidebook’s standards and financial interests in recent months. Since Michelin abandoned the sale of hardcover guidebooks, it has increasingly come to rely on different revenue streams to finance its operations, and often this comes from partnerships with food brands, hotel chains, and local tourism boards. Indeed, the National Institute of Tourism Promotion (INPROTUR, by its Spanish acronym) reportedly invested US$620,000 to bring the company to Argentina.

In September, renowned Argentine chef Francis Mallman took to Instagram to rail against Michelin’s star system and its effect on dining culture.

“Today first page of The NY Times [sic],” he wrote in reference to a New York Times report titled “Michelin’s Coveted Stars Can Come With Some Costs.” “Argentina as well recently paid the 600K fee to Michelin to be part of the guide. They said that they will give stars to restaurants in Buenos Aires and Mendoza (where I have my restaurant 1884) that has been open for 25 years [sic].”

“After almost 50 years of cooking professionally, I truly wish we don’t get a star,” Mallmann continued. “If so, I would not accept it. But let us share bread, thoughts, and romance. Holding hands till the end of hope.”

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