Film Review: Three Stars

Less a luxurious cinematic meal than a generous spread of snippets and tidbits, this feast for foodies features ten mostly European-based Michelin-awarded chefs. On the burner since 2010, this doc could have a little reheating as required by the fast-c

Three Stars is a pastiche of not particularly well-ordered, zigzagging glimpses of and commentary from its ten chef subjects, all of whom have Michelin star connections either by training at award-winning restaurants or winning as many as three stars for their own establishments. This fun doc focuses on their culinary approaches and, in some cases, what their Michelin stars mean to them and their operations. (Some deeply value the honor, while others focus on whether what’s on plates will have customers returning.) The chefs appear in a number of situations, whether working in their kitchens, overseeing reservations, foraging for local greens, puttering in a giant pantry of 1,500 ingredients or discussing their métiers and cuisines.

With regard to this latter, the food on view and the chefs’ food-centric views are quite varied: There’s the molecular gastronomy of serious-minded San Sebastian chefs Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, largely credited with Spain’s rise in avant-garde cooking; the strict locavore approach of Denmark’s René Redzepi, seen foraging for ingredient greens near his Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant; the painful attention to ingredient detail paid by Yannick Alléno, chef at Paris’ impossibly sumptuous Le Meurice hotel restaurant; the embrace of calm, hominess and family that permeates the Lombardy kitchen and restaurant of chef Nadia Santini; the strictly Japanese vision of Tokyo chef Hideki Ishikawa, who has never traveled to the U.S. or Europe for culinary inspiration; and the empire approach of the globally and media-minded New York-based Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose early travels to Asia inform much of his food. Such variety conveys the complexity of the profession practiced at its highest level.

Also featured in this Michelin award-winning line-up are French chef Olivier Roellinger of Cancale’s gorgeous Les Maisons de Bricourt near Mont St. Michel; Sergio Herman of the Netherlands’ Oud Sluis that is situated in a town also known for its sex shops; and chef Sven Elverfeld at Germany’s Aqua in Wolfsburg, who is another obsessive regarding ingredients.

Whether in gastronomic labs, the great Tokyo fish market, or the restaurant kitchens, main or reservation-monitoring rooms, Three Stars provides a fascinating if jumpy trip through top chef habitats and worlds. The film also includes a footnote, by way of a 21-year-old sommelier, about how important carefully curated (read: expensive) wine lists are to Michelin-caliber restaurants.

Regrettably, too little context and explanations are provided for the few dishes prepared onscreen, whether delicate assemblies of oh-so-precious plates of caviar blinis or bizarre exercises with fruits and rhubarb.

Also presented is the good and the bad of the Michelin phenomenon: Celebrity chef Joel Robuchon had a failing Las Vegas restaurant until the guide bestowed three stars, and renowned French regional chef Bernard Loiseau committed suicide when he suspected that his restaurant could not sustain its slipping status in the food world.