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Is it time for Michelin to take into account staff welfare?

Ahead of the Michelin Star announcements for 2022, Rosalind Erskine asks if how staff are treated needs to be taken into account when bestowing these accolades.

Published: February 11, 2022
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It’s the road trip guide book that’s turned into a global phenomenon, with the winners of its stars gaining column inches nationally and waiting lists for some of the best restaurants stretching into months.

But, as we await the 2022 star announcements, has the time come for the famous Michelin Guide to take into account the welfare of the staff employed to create the award-winning dishes and keep the coveted restaurants running?

Last year news broke that chef Tom Kitchin, owner and head chef of the one Michelin star restaurant The Kitchin in Leith, suspended two members of staff and launched an investigation amid bullying and assault allegations from former staff.

The complaints came to light on social media, and included some staff speaking out about a "toxic workplace' with allegations of bullying, assault and harassment. Some of these complaints also involved allegations against Kitchin.

When he addressed these allegations, Kitchin referenced a ‘traditional kitchen culture and said “Where we have fallen short, we will address it and remedy it. That will be our clear priority in the weeks, months and years ahead.”

Further afield in Manchester, chef Simon Martin of Mana won the city’s first Michelin star in over 40 years, but has been accused by staff of running a ‘chaotic and abusive restaurant’ - despite saying he’d create the opposite when the acclaimed eatery opened.

Of the people making the accusations, Martin said to the Manchester Mill: “There's people that have left here on bad terms or been fired for stealing wine, or not turning up for work.” 

If Michelin are going to, year on year, tell diners where the best restaurants in the country are, surely they need to now consider how the staff there are treated.

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The potential for chefs and restaurateurs to lose the prestige attached to the Michelin Guide and its stars system based on workplace culture could be just the tonic needed for an industry that’s been left at times battered and bruised.

In the meantime, I'll be watching on with great interest to see who is rewarded across Scotland as the star announcements are made next week.

Mana said in a statement it categorically denies the allegations made by former employees and that claims concerning a "chaotic and abusive restaurant" were false.

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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