French find German's role hard to swallow

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The world of Teutonic gastronomy is in shock following the surprise announcement by the board of Guide Michelin France that a 38-year-old German woman has been chosen to run the male-dominated culinary bible for the first time in its 108-year history.

Julianne Caspar is the first woman and - it goes almost without saying - the first German to run Michelin's legendary "Guide Rouge". She was previously responsible for Michelin guides on Germany, Switzerland and Austria but will take over the French Guide from January next year.

Michelin France yesterday described the deliberately publicity shy Ms Caspar, who hails from the German industrial city of Bochum, as a "polyglot who speaks four languages fluently." The publication added: "She is the first foreigner to run Guide Michelin France".

French attitudes to German cuisine do not exactly abound with admiration. There are few German dishes that are famous in France. One of them is "sauerkraut" or pickled cabbage, which most French claim is Alsatian anyway and called "choucroute". "In France, Germany is dismissed as the land of roast pork in brown sauce," remarked one German commentator.

Germany's conservative Die Welt newspaper said of Mrs Caspar's appointment: "In view of the fact that German cuisine is regarded as a lethal weapon in most parts of France, this decision is a sensation... It is like Mercedes calmly announcing that its new director of product development is a Martian."

Ms Caspar, who is unmarried, was not available for comment. She merely let it be known through Michelin that she viewed her new job as a "fantastic challenge". She has so far given only rare interviews to the press and to date she has only allowed herself to be photographed from behind because of her role as one of Michelin's covert restaurant inspectors. Apparently even top chefs do not recognise her.

Michelin's Guide Rouge was launched in 1900 by the French entrepreneur and tyre manufacturer, Andre Michelin. His original aim had been to produce an advertising gimmick that would help him to sell more tyres. The Guide Rouge's present editor, Jean-François Mesplède will become the new editor of the Michelin-owned French food magazine "Etoile", when Ms Caspar takes over his job next year.

In German culinary circles, Ms Caspar has been criticised by some for being too rooted in the traditions classical French cuisine. For others, she is the Michelin editor who has gone out of her way to award stars to young chefs who are not afraid to experiment.

Her near-meteoric progress has not gone unnoticed. She completed a training in hotel management and catering at the highly-regarded hotel Colombi in the south-western German town of Freiburg and went on to work as a manager in various top-class restaurants in her homeland but also in Britain, Italy and South Africa.

Before joining Guide Michelin, she was manager of Germany's acclaimed Vendome restaurant at the Schloss Bensberg grand hotel near Cologne. Vendome's head chef, Joachim Wissler is one of the nine chefs in Germany to have achieved a Michelin three-star rating.

Ms Caspar left the restaurant in 2002 and began a new career as an inspector for Guide Michelin Germany. Three years later she was appointed editor of the German and Austrian editions, two years after that the Swiss Guide was added to her portfolio.

Several German food writers waxed triumphant at the news of Ms Caspar's appointment yesterday. Marten Roff, in the country's Südeutsche Zeitung newspaper described her as the "most powerful gourmet critic in Europe". Another food columnist proclaimed: "We are German".