I have a hard time believing Emperor-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten presides over servers' table assignments at any of his 16 restaurants, yet there he is near the beginning of this documentary, at his Manhattan flagship making sure Josh, Nico, and Esmeralda are taking care of Station 1. That's one of the few scenes that feel staged in this behind-the-scenes look at nine Michelin-starred restaurants and the obsessive chefs who command them. The French guidebook, considered to be the ultimate arbiter of European fine dining—and more controversially, Asian and North American
—doesn't escape criticism as the toques who strive for its approval alternately appreciate the financial reward and prestige that come with the stars and bemoan the dehumanizing pressures of maintaining them.
Lutz Hachmeister shoots plenty of proverbial chef-farmer visits and foraging field trips, but what's most captivating are the kitchen scenes contrasting leadership styles, from the intensity of Copenhagen's uncompromising René Redzepi (Noma) to the zenlike calm of Tokyo's Hideki Ishikawa (whose name is butchered by a loud, obtrusive narrator), all interwoven with interviews with the Guide's tanned and oleaginous former director Jean-Luc Naret. 94 min.
Facets Cinematheque, Friday, December 23 & Tues,-Fri., December 27-30; Tues.-Thurs., Jan 3-7, 7& 9 pm