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Prague awaits second Michelin star

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The hottest candidate for a Michelin star is Oldřich Sahajdák, who rules in the kitchen of La Degustation. (COURTESY)The hottest candidate for a Michelin star is Oldřich Sahajdák, who runs the kitchen at La Degustation. (COURTESY)

On 16 March it will be clear whether, compared to last year, the Czech Republic has grown from a gastronomic standpoint.

For the first time last year, the renowned culinary guide Michelin granted a star to a Czech restaurant, which is, however, headed by an Italian chef. This year for the first time, the prestigious award – a Michelin star – could be awarded to a Czech chef in a Czech restaurant. The hottest candidate is Oldřich Sahajdák, who runs the kitchen at La Degustation.

“There’s a 90% chance he will receive a star,” a well-informed source, who is in contact with Michelin’s French headquarters, told HN.

A sum of evaluations granted by the commissioners of the prestigious guide decides about the stars. Evaluators with a refined gastronomic taste pay repeated incognito visits to selected restaurants.

According to information available to HN, commissioners have eaten at at least nine restaurants in Prague.

Besides Allegro at the Four Seasons hotel, which received the first Michelin star in eastern Europe, the commissioners also dined at La Degustation, Café Imperial, Vinohrady’s Le Papillon, at both restaurants of the Radisson SAS Alcron hotel, at Le Terroir, Brasserie M and at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze.

“Hopefully, they won’t take our star away this year,” Allegro’s chef Andrea Accordi said in mock horror, when talk turns to the commissioners. In fact, no one thinks that Allegro could lose its star. What’s thrilling about this year’s evaluation is the suspense if and to whom Michelin will award the second star.

So far, the only Czech with a star is Pavel Pospíšil who lives in Germany and who got the award for the restaurant Merkurius in Baden-Baden.

A new edition of the Michelin guide Main Cities of Europe, which contains evaluations of Czech restaurants, will start selling in bookshops in the middle of March.

Cheeks and tongue

“We didn’t open our restaurant because of a Michelin star. But it would be nice,” the restaurant’s chef, Oldřich Sahajdák, commented on the speculation with a typical stoicism.

The first chef to open a restaurant here based exclusively on a degustation menu, he is trying to build La Degustation’s menu on traditional Czech ingredients and recipes. For example these days, the restaurant’s guests can savour poached Prague ham with maliner foam and south Bohemian rabbit soup. There is also freshly smoked beef tongue with roast onions and marjoram and veal cheeks on the menu.

Another chef who might be pleased with this year’s Michelin guide is a promoter of Czech specialties. Although Zdeněk Pohlreich from Café Imperial is not aspiring to receive a Michelin star, he is a hot candidate for “Bib”, a minor Michelin award. Café Imperial perfectly fulfils the “Bib” criterion – good food at moderate price.

Ragout of deer with noodle gratin with mushrooms costs less than CZK 300 and a braised shank of lamb with marjoram is only slightly more expensive.

Last year, three Czech restaurants, Le Terroir, Brasserie M and Aromi received the “Bib” award. Whether they will keep it this year remains to be seen. Le Terroir, for example, does not exactly have “Bib” prices. The degustation menu of six courses costs CZK 1,700. Brasserie M has been coping with financial problems in the past months, and according to some, the quality of the food is inconsistent.

The owner Jean Paul Manzac is trying to attract new guests through special deals, for example, Friday evenings with roast meat or lunch specials for common pub prices.

Six for the east

For a long time there has been talk as to whether Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, which opened in Prague about a year and a quarter ago, could get a Michelin star.

However, the famous British chef announced at the beginning of February that his business is leaving the Czech Republic and any award for this restaurant would therefore be a sad irony.

Ramsay did not give reasons for his departure, but a lack of guests at Maze was a public secret.

But new competition is growing for established enterprises on the Czech culinary scene.

Alcron’s new chef Roman Paulus has brought fresh wind to the hotel’s kitchen. Since his arrival, the hotel’s restaurants ranked among top ten restaurants of the Czech dining guide Grand Restaurant.

And new interesting restaurants have opened. But these will probably not be included in the competition for Michelin stars until the guide’s edition for 2010.

The fight for next season’s French awards will be most probably joined by Celeste, the former La Perla at the Dancing House or La Galerie, which was opened by Mikuláš Gottwald at the botanical garden.

While candidates for Czech stars are emerging gradually, there will be a Michelin boom this year east of the country’s border.

According to insider information, five stars should be awarded in Russia and one to Ukraine.

At this moment, it is not yet certain whether Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev will appear in the European guide. “You have to wait until March whether they will appear in Main Cities of Europe,” Daniel Cahel, Michelin’s representative in the Czech Republic, said mysteriously. An eastern European edition of the guide is reportedly also in the works.

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