AGFG Chef Hat Awards
Our objective is to reward exceptional chefs, not chefs that are exceptional at adhering to set guidelines, explains AGFG's Managing Director. AGFG has always adhered to a mute 'Michelin' model of rating. This practice remains today with the company declining to particularize the precise award criteria. The company directors maintain that the Australian Good Food and Travel Guide is not an advisory or training institute asserting that the approach avoids standardisation and encourages creativity.
How are Chef Hats Awarded?
AGFG Chef Hats are awarded for the food alone. Other considerations such as setting and décor, service and wine are represented by the crossed fork-and-spoon symbols (See: Ratings & Symbols). Inspectors do not provide commentary when rating establishments rather they submit a straightforward score out of 20 based on the food alone. This is based on the traditional French rating system. Since the guide's inception in 1977, a score of 20 has never been awarded and seldom have restaurants been awarded a 19. Without giving too much away, below are some of the key areas of appraisal.
Six Attributes for Success
- Ingredients: The integrity and use of first rate ingredients is essential. How true ingredients are to their individual flavours highlights a chef's confidence in the produce they are using. Quality ingredients however do not always necessitate that they be the most expensive. In fact the ability to take an inexpensive ingredient and turn it into something exquisite requires great skill and is a way of identifying true talent. The use of local and seasonal ingredients is also a consideration. Ingredients alone, however, do not make for award winning food, rather it's the way those ingredients are brought together as a harmonised whole that deliver truly outstanding results.
- Taste: Technically flavours have to be amazing, but balance is critical! Dishes that are over-complicated and pretentious often do not fare well with diners or inspectors. Chefs must consider the whole menu carefully ensuring that individual ingredients and their effects on each other combine harmoniously. Great chefs consistently demonstrate an aptitude for bringing out the integrity of ingredients and successfully marry those flavours as a complete dish. Too many unrelated tastes on a single plate are confusing to the palate. Everything on the plate has to have reason. Simple can also be special. In many instances simplifying dishes would see restaurants more likely to win an award.
- Presentation: The sight of food elicits a range of physiological and cognitive responses. According to the ancient quote attributed to Apicius (1st century AD) and echoed by great chefs the world over: "The first taste is always with the eyes.” Food presentation is therefore second to none in eliciting initial anticipation... Multiple functional neuro-imaging studies have examined the brain responses to visual food stimuli. As to the core brain regions that are activated in response to viewing food, one effect is undeniable. Like so many other behaviours the enjoyment of food is guided by the visual. Presentation then is of foremost importance in establishing a diner's first impression of the awaiting meal. Hint: Don't over garnish!
- Technique: Individuality is at the heart of great cooking. A chef's creativity and individual interpretation of a dish is what makes for an exciting and memorable experience. Throughout Australia, indeed throughout the world, there are an abundance of keen cooks with great ideas but true creative mastery requires dedication and discipline. The execution of a concept goes beyond just imagination and demands talent, teamwork and leadership. Great chefs deliver dishes that are clever without being convoluted – dishes that inspire and intrigue. While wild imagination and unbridled originality are certain to make a chef be noticed, Award winning food must not be so innovative that a diner is unable to identify what is on the plate.
- Value: AGFG inspectors are mindful in their evaluations to measure restaurants by what they are attempting to be. Nouveau cuisine, for example, can not be measured in the same way as traditional country style cooking - the personalities of the two food styles are too unrelated. While nouveau cuisine erupts with originality and finesse, food portions are characteristically less generous. Country style cooking on the other hand typically rewards diners with hearty traditional recipes at comparatively inexpensive prices. How is one therefore compared against the other considering their heterogeneous food focus and style? The answer lies in whether the quality of the experience fits the price and meets with customer expectations. Again balance is of underlying importance.
- Consistency: Of utmost importance is consistency of quality, though consistency of technique, presentation and taste are also of decisive significance. Far too often restaurants do not perform in this essential area. Award winning restaurants effectively synchronize their entire operation and successfully repeat their efforts time and time again. Consequently this managed permanence inspires confidence, forming the foundation of effective relations both at an emotional (venerability) and logical (predicability) level. Lack of consistency is not just a loathing of restaurant reviewers, it is equally abhorred by regular diners.
Who are the AGFG inspectors?
AGFG inspectors are individually headhunted for their qualification and experience. Their identities are kept strictly confidential. Inspectors always dine anonymously and always, always pay full fare! Anonymity is fundamental in the minds of AGFG directors, ensuring accuracy and unquestionable objectivity. AGFG inspectors and directors convene several times throughout the year to discuss restaurants and chefs, and evaluate ratings. Prior to the annual release of the awards in January, these ratings are cross referenced and ranked; if there is contention over the rating it may be rescrutinised by the panel upon recommendation.
How do restaurant-goers influence ratings?
Without question customer comments are integral in identifying and awarding quality establishments; after all, our readers are for whom the guide is produced. Readers are encouraged to forward their comments and opinion about restaurants they visit which may lead to a visit by an inspector; however, the AGFG invariably has the final say on ratings and Chef Hats Awards. Additionally, the AGFG reserves the right not to post reviews that may be construed as inappropriate or defamatory. Inasmuch this is not a forum for disgruntled patrons.
Advertising & Chef Hats Award Accuracy
AGFG accepts advertising but in no way do the commercial activities of the guide influence the awarding of our Chef Hats. All commercial matters are kept independent and in no way influence our inspection team's adjudication. Many of the company's employees have never knowingly met an inspector. The AGFG prides itself on the fairness and accuracy of its ratings and is committed to awarding establishments for excellence based on what we believe to be fair, balanced and accurate criteria.
The Food Critic Debate
AGFG allocates Chef Hat Awards with the upmost integrity, albeit in acknowledgment that all reviews are subjective. What we consider to be exceptional you may consider average and just like that the food critic debate is born. That's why we have opened up our site to your comments and have made the whole process a little more democratic; after all, a 'well-thought-out' reader comment has proven to hold as much weight as one of our awards. In fact, one of the best recommendations for restaurants who wish to receive an award -strangely at odds with the entire concept of awards- is to forget trying to win one and simply make sure your customers are happy with every single dish you present. The accolades will naturally follow. Remember: Customers, customers, customers!