The Mexican chef Santiago Lastra has achieved a milestone that will transcend his culinary legacy: he has just won a Michelin star with his restaurant KOLof Mexican haute cuisine, located in the legendary city of London.
“’Mexican soul, British ingredients’ is the motto of this great restaurant that demonstrates a unique and stimulating combination. The resourceful and talented team take recipes rooted in tradition from various regions of Mexico and add their own creativity, while using premium produce from the British Isles. This results in a varied and imaginative menu of colorful and vibrant dishes that will captivate you from the first bite to the last”, was the opinion with which the French prize awarded recognition to the Mexican.
Although short, this Mexican’s journey has not been an easy one. Starting from the fact that he opened this restaurant in the midst of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the first months of 2020. His talent, perseverance and 15 years of experience helped him overcome the obstacles that this could entail and get to where he is now. same is.
“From three years ago on a beach in Tulum, imagining what KOL could be, until being here in Marylebone with our wonderful team, this really is a dream come true”, Santiago expressed through social networks, “it is an honor not only to receive this award, but also to be able to represent Mexican cuisine on an international stage”.
He also recognized and dedicated the award to his native Mexico, indicating that this was now possible thanks to the legacy that has been passed from generation to generation from indigenous ancestors to all the people who currently preserve all that culinary knowledge.
“Mexico, this is for you. From the home cooks and family traditions we grew up with, to the incredible indigenous communities that inspire our work and underpin our culture, thank you for being a constant source of wonder and creativity. Thank you for being part of our journey.”
Thus, the bible for lovers of good cuisine, with more than 100 years of life, which is capable of deifying cooks or sinking them, The Michelin Guide, added the Mexican to its list.
But what is the origin of this guide? In which countries does it work? Who are the judges and what are their evaluation criteria?
The Michelin Guide was in its beginnings (1900) a guide for French drivers, on their tours of the country, to easily find points of interest on the route: mechanics, shops, and restaurants where to eat.
It was created by the owners of the French tire brand (Michelin). But what began as a material to be kept in the glove compartment of the car, became over the years the main gastronomic guide not only in France, but in the main cities of the world.
Unlike other restaurant evaluation systems, the judges of the Michelin guide are not ordinary diners. To be absolutely impartial, the judges who evaluate the restaurants go incognito, and obviously, they cannot announce their visit (there are usually several).
The important and outstanding thing is that he cannot testify before the press. This through strict training in France. People with the ability to know the business or have worked in it are especially sought after.
It does not matter so much the decoration or the care in the environment. The judges evaluate—above all—the food in the following aspects: quality of ingredients, techniques used, and most essential, the taste.
However, the award does not go to him or the cook, but to the restaurant (his team and consistency over time). In that line, the competition is so tough, and the job requires demand and effort, which leads some to take their own lives for losing stars.
Restaurants can receive 0, 1, 2 or 3 stars, although this was not the case at the beginning of the guide. The first star was incorporated in 1923, and the other two, 10 years later. Having a star means that in that restaurant “high quality food is cooked, which deserves a stop”.
In fact, one is enough for many restaurants. Tokyo, for example, only has 161 one-star restaurants. A city with tens of thousands of restaurants.
You don’t have to be a five-fork restaurant, either: in 2019, a Singaporean street cook, Hawker Chan, was awarded a star. The 2 stars are for excellent cuisine that merits a detour — along the way. Finally, the 3 stars are awarded only to the “exceptional cuisine, which deserves a special trip”.
What in the strict sense is just an addition or a subtraction, can be, for many businesses and chefs, the difference between success and failure. Belonging to the select “3-star club” means belonging to the elite (although there is no certainty in its objective).
As in other evaluation systems, it is clear that there are many interests involved. While some chefs stay away from the spotlight, dedicated to cooking because they are passionate about it or simply because it is what they live for, there are others who do depend on awards and recognition.
Currently the guide evaluates restaurants in 23 countries; mainly in Europe, Asia and the United States, where there are a total of 135 3-star restaurants (only 135 worldwide). France is the country with the most stars (628) and also the one with, along with Japan, the most restaurants with three stars (29).