But it's not what you think. At Le Bernardin, one of the highest calibre restaurants in NYC, Eric Ripert and his chefs use "cheap, fake Swiss cheese full of artificial flavors" as a baseline to normalize everyone's palates so that sauces can be judged fairly in the kitchen.
In terms of flavor, that cheese tastes identical all year long...so it give us a reference, and we can judge fairly.
Cheese. Is there anything it can't do?
For the first time ever, a Michelin Guide reviewer knowingly sits down to a meal with a journalist, New Yorker writer John Colapinto. The resulting article is pretty interesting; here's my favorite bit:
Le Bernardin was one of only four restaurants in New York (along with Jean Georges, Thomas Keller's Per Se, and the now defunct Alain Ducasse at the Essex House) that earned three stars in the debut issue of the Michelin guide, and it has held on to its three stars ever since. Ripert estimates that revenues increased by eighteen per cent when the first guide came out, but the pressure to hold on to his stars has also escalated.
An 18% increase? Assuming that Le Bernardin was already booked solid before the guide came out and expenses remained constant, that means that the same number of diners generated that increase...presumably Michelin Guide readers spend more on dining than even Le Bernardin regulars do. Margins on Manhattan restaurants, even the fancy ones, generally aren't that large...an 18% increase is insane.
Update: A slight clarification. I fudged the 18% revenue increase into an 18% increase in profits...which isn't the case. But since I'm assuming that the revenue increased was generated by the about same number of customers and that most of the expenses (rent, staff, etc.) stayed the same, the profit margin had to increase by some significant amount (for a Manhattan restaurant). And if those new customers ordered more tasting menus or more expensive bottles of wine, I would assume that the profit margin on those items are higher than average as well. So, my guess is that if you asked Eric Ripert if Le Bernardin's profit margin increased after the Michelin Guide came out, he would answer in the affirmative...but it wouldn't be an 18% increase.
A reader of New York's Grub Street blog recenty wrote in, saying that he was about to have surgery that might permanently impair his sense of taste and he was looking for recommendations of places to go for his potential last few meals. Hearing of his plight, Eric Ripert agreed to cook the fellow a special Doomsday Menu at his 4-star restaurant, Le Bernardin.
New York magazine enters the NYC dining fray with a listing of the best 101 restaurants in the city. Only two got their highest (5 star) rating: Masa and Le Bernardin.