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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


You might think a region that boasts as many fine restaurants as the Twin Cities would be able to hold its head high among other centers of gastronomic excellence. Consider the James Beard nominations and awards that pepper the resumes of prominent local chefs. Consider Owamni, the subject of a 2022 New Yorker headline: "How Owamni became the best new restaurant in the United States."

But these Minnesota giants of culinary art lack one credential proudly displayed by their peers in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. — one or more Michelin stars. The reason is simple: There is no Michelin Guide for Minnesota.

Does it matter? To the restaurateur elite, the answer is yes. Gavin Kaysen, owner and chef of a group of first-rank Minneapolis restaurants, once was top chef in a restaurant with a Michelin star. He told an editorial writer that the star's effect on a restaurant goes beyond simple prestige.

Kaysen explained that a star need not be merely won; once won, it must be maintained. Michelin inspectors come back to make sure that the establishment's standards haven't slipped. They do their work incognito, and Michelin goes to extreme lengths to keep their identities secret.

A continuing star, Kaysen said, assures customers that a restaurant continues to operate at the highest level. "Just because you get it doesn't mean you get it next year," he said. "You have to maintain those one, two or three stars, every single year. That's a lot of pressure."

And yet it's a pressure he considers a privilege. He'd like Minneapolis to follow the recent example of Denver and cook up a deal to bring Michelin to Minnesota. That's a worthwhile idea.

The chief ingredient in Denver's recipe was money. The Colorado tourism board put up $100,000, and six municipalities chipped in similar amounts, for a total reported at $600,000. The resulting Michelin Guide served up just five single stars to individual restaurants in three of the six cities.

That would seem to support Michelin's stance that its stars are not for sale. Michelin's mere presence in Colorado, however, suggests that its attentions are very much for sale, even if its stars are not.

Any effort to bring Michelin to Minnesota would depend on the coalition-building skills of the state's tourism agency, Explore Minnesota. Executive Director Lauren Bennett McGinty told an editorial writer that the agency is just beginning to gather information about the idea.

"Frankly, I'm probably not one of the target demographics, personally," she said. "There's probably something there that is alluring to travelers. And I know there's a fairly large population of people who consider themselves foodies, and want to travel for food, and we know in tourism that it's a major reason why people travel.

"If you are that excited about it, I would imagine that going to a restaurant with a Michelin star, or two, or the very rare three, that's a main staple of your experience. I know there's definitely an audience. What that means for Minnesota, I don't know just yet."

The use of tourism funds to support high-end restaurants might strike some as perverse. The idea might be more palatable, however, viewed as simply a different kind of tourism advertising.

Explore Minnesota's budget is relatively modest, compared with tourism spending of other states. Most of the money goes to out-of-state advertising meant to lure visitors. But couldn't other entities that promote tourism help share the budget burden with Explore Minnesota?

An intriguing question is whether a dollar spent to attract someone hoping to catch a walleye could be better spent catching a diner who wants to eat one.