An important criterion for guests when choosing a restaurant is, after the quality of the cuisine, increasingly also its sustainability standards. It is not only a question of whether the restaurant offers vegetarian or vegan dishes, but whether the restaurant or hotel operator is particularly committed to the environment and the sustainable use of resources.
Honouring these restaurateurs, giving consumers a guide to them and at the same time encouraging other restaurateurs to follow suit, is in itself a good idea in times of increasing eco-sensitivity. However, the way it has been implemented through the awarding of the “green star” by the Michelin Guide can no longer be described as suboptimal, but is a real farce. Some even speak of “greenwashing” in its purest form.
Award for special environmental commitment
Since the beginning of 2020, the Michelin Guide has also awarded a green star, symbolised by a green flower. This emblem is intended to signal to potential visitors: “Sustainability is valued here.”
This refers not only to the selection and preparation of food, but generally to the “sustainable commitment” of the restaurant or hotel. This means that in order to receive the green star, it may be that there is a special waste avoidance concept, the energy comes from the block-type thermal power station or the restaurant’s furnishings are made of local wood. In many cases, however, it is also about the origin of the food: Do the vegetables come from the restaurant’s own cultivation or from organic farmers? Does the game come from the region or does the chef even pick up the gun himself? Also important: Is as much of the animal as possible used and what happens to the leftovers?
The green Michelin star was first presented in January 2020 at the launch event of the Guide Michelin France. Since last year, 53 restaurants in Germany have been able to adorn themselves with the award. 18 German restaurants received the green star in 2020, followed by 35 showcase establishments in 2021. Here you can dine exquisitely, but guests can also be sure that the owners, chefs and staff are committed to the environment. Eating with a clear conscience. But is that true?
The Green Star: Credible or Questionable?
The question may be asked how the testers, who do not identify themselves as such during their visit to the restaurant, can manage to check the sustainability concepts and measures of a restaurant in passing.
The owner of the destination “Relais & Châteaux Gut Steinbach Hotel & Chalets”, Countess Susanne von Moltke, says that they are very open to information from all guests, “because we want to live sustainability and not just talk about it”.
Gut Steinbach – regionality paired with sophistication
The destination, located in picturesque Reit im Winkl, includes a certified organic farm with more than 50 hectares of land. Here, red deer, chickens, geese, the endangered “Tauern goat” and yaks are kept in a species-appropriate manner. On pastures, of course, visible to guests. Apart from that, most of the food comes from regional partners, as chef Achim Hack assures: “Our principle that 80 percent of the food comes from within a radius of 80 kilometres only works for us because we have found long-term partners in our region who go this way together with us.” And as far as preparation is concerned, the native of the Black Forest also has the claim of “uncompromisingly implemented sustainability”.
Practised “nose-to-tail” principle
Not only the use of noble cuts such as fillet or loin, but out of respect for the “sacrificed” living creature, also other, often underestimated and lesser-known cuts, should actually be the norm in gastronomic establishments. In Bavarian one would say „from the schnauzn to the haxn“ or more understandably “from the mouth to the tail”. This means that the kitchen team at Gut Steinbach uses as much of the animal as possible and transforms offal and pigs’ feet into sophisticated dishes. This special kitchen philosophy was certainly one of the reasons why Gut Steinbach in the Chiemgau Alps was awarded the green star. If the thought of delicious sweetbreads, kidneys or oxtail soup doesn’t make your mouth water, we recommend going to Tian in Munich or Vienna.
“No-waste culture” in Tian: Miso paste made from vegetable scraps
Paul Ivic is the only chef in Austria who has managed to convince the testers of the Guide Michelin with a purely vegetarian cuisine. After Tian in Vienna, the restaurant at Viktualienmarkt received a „normal“ star in 2019 and now newly also the green star from Michelin. “We already have an advantage in terms of sustainability because we offer vegan and purely vegetarian dishes,” says Ivic, managing director and chef of both restaurants. He emphasises that they go a step further beyond the high standards of “fair trade products”. For example, the chocolate comes from „Original Beans“. The manufacturers of the organic chocolate negotiate 5-year contracts with the cocoa producers and pay the farmers 5000 dollars per tonne of cocoa beans instead of the usual 800 to 1000 dollars, the restaurateur tells us.
The Michelin starred chef thinks Michelin is right to take the sustainability aspect into account, „because eating habits have a great influence on ecology and economy and the gastronomy also has a responsibility here. How the testers check the criteria that go beyond the meal served is something even he can only speculate about. Ivic assumes that the inspectors check with the staff. One aspect that the kitchen teams in Munich and Vienna have internalised is waste avoidance, the so-called no-waste principle. Even at the purchasing stage, care is taken to ensure that only as much is bought as will later be needed. Of course, it is not possible to avoid 100 per cent waste – the chef de cuisine prefers to speak of “vegetable leftovers”. But vegetable scraps are used, for example, to make miso paste for seasoning or the so-called “garum”. This is a fermentation method that was already known in ancient Rome.
But what happens when something is left over from a fine meal? This is where the app “Too good to go” comes in, whose founders are committed to reducing food waste.
“Too Good to Go” – Leftovers for the Climate
Once the food has been prepared and there is something left over, restaurants – in addition to supermarkets and bakeries – have the opportunity to announce this via the app “Too Good to Go” and find buyers for a small price. One restaurant that participates here is the „Fürstenfelder“ in Fürstenfeldbruck. Managing director Gerhard Kohlfürst explains: “If there is something left over from the lunch buffet, the employees help themselves and afterwards anyone can order a lunch box via app for 4.50 euros.”
Kohlfürst learned about the green star award from a local reporter. He was surprised, even though the company with its beer garden, hotel and restaurant has been certified organic for 17 years – but the Michelin world was not particularly on his radar. “We know where our sausage, spare ribs and bread come from because we also only work with certified companies.” How exactly the Michelin testers proceed, he doesn’t know either. He assumes that the quality of the food and drinks is essentially tested during the visit and that otherwise the company is researched.
Dine good, do good
What all Green Star restaurants have in common: they are committed to ensuring that everything that ends up on the plate is as compatible as possible with the principles of sustainability: fish, meat, vegetables – everything should come from the region and from a sustainable economy. But the commitment does not end with the artfully decorated dish. The entire kitchen team should follow “green” principles in their preparation. „Eat well and do good in the process“ – that’s how Jimmy Ophorst sums it up. The chef of the Pru restaurant in Phuket, the only restaurant in Thailand to be awarded a green star, follows a sustainable philosophy that also involves reducing the carbon footprint.
In addition to waste avoidance, the topic of “waste recycling” is an increasingly important one. This includes when organic waste is recycled in the company’s own composting plant or when waste is converted into fertiliser or biodiesel.
Contemporary idea with greenwashing skingout
No doubt, Michelin could win praise for awarding the “green star”. On the one hand, such an award is a significant medium for raising consumer awareness and, at the same time, it serves as a practical guide for guests to sustainably managed gastronomic establishments. The label would also create incentives for restaurant operators to follow in the footsteps of their “green” forerunners. For the sake of the environment, but not least also as a contribution to the positive image of the business.
However, the way the award is handled, it is – if I may say so – an outright misleading of consumers and restaurateurs. What is the value of an award that is not based on transparent, comprehensible and verified criteria? Some restaurant operators are already considering returning the “Green Star” because they were “given” it without an eco-audit or a credible certification. The bill for Michelin’s questionable (non-)action is paid above all by those gastronomic establishments that actually make a great effort to be sustainable in many areas, but end up in the same Michelin star pot as those that have only used local wood in the restaurant. Where there are no criteria, no points system, and thus no ranking, there can naturally be no gradation, for example in the form of 1-3 green stars.
When we asked how compliance with the various eco-measures is checked and how they are weighted in the overall assessment, we were unable to obtain satisfactory information from the Michelin press office. On the contrary: that anonymous restaurant critics, of all people, could be predestined eco-inspectors, as they tried to make us believe, is really quite a bit. In any case, we did not come across any restaurateur who could report that guests had asked him if they could take a look at the CHP plant they had heard about… In addition, to award recognition mainly on the basis of self-disclosure, as Michelin freely admits, is a joke in itself, which is only topped by the fact that one of the award winners we contacted did not know about his green star, while another had heard about it from a journalist.
Our examples show that the vast majority of farms are serious about their eco-claims and would presumably have no qualms about disclosing compliance with their measures in the context of professional certification. This is the only way that the award would carry weight with consumers who, especially in the case of eco-labels, would like to know more precisely what is behind them.
Lead image: Tobias Hertle
Emblem Flower: Michelin
Photos Steinbach Estate:
Picture number 1: Klaus Lorke
Picture number 2 and picture number 3: Tobias Hertle
Photos Tian: Ingo Pertramer
Picture 1 Kilian Blees
Photo 2: Tobias Binder
Picture 3: Wolfgang Pulfer
Author: Susanne Frank