This week saw the first reveal from the inaugural 2019 Michelin Guide California, which covers San Diego, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Sacramento and replaces the former stand-alone San Francisco guide. Tuesday’s announcement of Michelin’s Bib Gourmands featured eight San Diego restaurants, including El Jardin, Juniper & Ivy, and Lola55; Bib Gourmands are noted as “hidden gems” that are “more widely accessible for diners, whatever their budget or craving”.
What we don’t know yet is which local restaurants will be given Michelin’s highest honor: a star rating; the stars will be awarded at a live event on Monday, June 3. At a panel last year in Singapore, Michelin reps said there are five determining factors: using quality ingredients, mastery over flavor and technique, how a chef’s personality is portrayed in the experience, the value for money, and the consistency of the food served. Michelin’s inspectors (whose identities are a well-kept secret) will visit a restaurant two or three times, looking for that special mix of ingredients, flavors, and personality worth recommending to Michelin’s world travelers.
Campfire in Carlsbad was on the short list of Bib Gourmand picks, so we know Michelin inspectors like the food from its executive chef Andrew Bachelier and owner John Resnick, who opened another restaurant up the street last December. Called Jeune et Jolie – French for “young and beautiful,” and also variants on the middle names of the daughters of Resnick and Bachelier, it could be a prime candidate for Michelin glory, if not in this year’s guide then possibly the next edition.
Jeune et Jolie was partly inspired by Bachelier’s experience of Paris and London’s bistronomy movement. “The bistro meets gastronomy,” as Bachelier describes it. “The younger chefs are moving into older bistros, taking off the white tablecloths, and making it a more hip, fun vibe.” See: Jeune et Jolie’s gorgeous open kitchen, brass bar, and luxe velvet seating. Bistronomy is seen as a reaction to the more traditional Michelin fodder, so for the guide to select Jeune for a star might be nicely redemptive.
Jeune et Jolie has only been open for about six months, which means it might be too new to be judged, but Bachelier is quick to point out there’s a precedent.“Frantzén [in Stockholm, Sweden] was open for maybe a month or two and they got three stars,” he says. “But that’s pretty rare,” he admits. Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in the Paris Sofitel Le Parc was given three stars just eight months after it opened in 1996, and Michelin has told Eater’s Ryan Sutton in the past that it could “star,” a restaurant which opened as late as August for a guide set to publish in October of the same year, if necessary. Eric Bruner, Michelin’s external communications director, confirmed that there is no minimum age requirement, but did say that Michelin values “consistency over time”.
“I think it’s front of mind,” Resnick says thoughtfully. “When it was announced that Michelin was coming back to California, everybody in our restaurant was talking about it, but it didn’t mean that we were going to do anything differently. For here, we’re doing something we think is really really good already -- we hope it’s really good and we try to make it better every day no matter what.”
But the restaurant does have some inherent appeal for Michelin. The guide was originally developed in France, which has earned the most stars of any country. Bachelier’s background includes classical French training at Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, a virtual shoo-in for a local star-earner. His “Carte Blanche” tasting menu is tailored for Michelin too, pairing precise technique with top-quality ingredients for plates that take French stalwarts in a new-wave direction, from flash-fried frogs legs with chile vinaigrette, lime, and tamari to beet salad with matcha and horseradish. And its attentive but not-so-stiff style of service might appeal to Michelin as it reconciles its traditions with the Californian approach to fine dining.
Resnick says that one of the biggest benefits of a potential Michelin star in San Diego would be in attracting more talent to the region. “It’s hard to find people to work in restaurants, especially in kitchens. And that’s true anywhere,” he admits, “but San Diego’s an amazing place to be. And if people recognize that, ‘wow, there’s actually a pretty solid restaurant culture there and I can actually accomplish my goals and learn things really well,’” then the whole region might get an influx of new talent. “Tangibly getting more and more people who are excited and interested in this career to come through the doors,” says Resnick. “That’s really important to us.”
For Bachelier, a star is a bit more personal. “It’s always been a dream of mine. I always wanted to go chase stars,” he says. He admits he was expecting to have to travel to get Michelin’s attention. But the current situation has made the possibility much more present. “It was a dream, and now it’s our goal.”
Accomplishing that goal does have its risks, however. “People might come in with unrealistic expectations,” says Bachelier.
“We’ve talked to people before who visit a two or three Michelin star restaurant,” says Resnick, “and then they come back and they’re like,” as he shrugs, “‘it was good.’ They expect it to blow their minds!” Resnick says that the crew at Jeune is prepared. “I’m not too concerned about that, because I feel like we already have pretty high expectations for ourselves.”
Whatever the final guide looks like, Bachelier believes the strategy going forward is essentially the same. “Keep pushing,” he says. “Just keep pushing, and maybe go for the other one star.” Hopefully, it’ll raise the bar a little bit for all of us.”
And Resnick adds that another chance is just a year away. “That’s what I love about the fact that it comes year after year,” he says. “I think it’s going to take a while to look in these areas,” Resnick adds about the growing scene in San Diego. “I won’t look at it as a failure for sure.”
Resnick claims the team has a more important audience to please anyway. “We get people all the time who are like, ‘you guys should have a Michelin star!’ and that’s incredibly humbling just to hear that from people,” he says. “That’s kind of worth a lot. The people that are actually here, eating.”