The prestigious restaurant guide will begin evaluating and recognizing Colorado restaurants

David Corsun

If a good meal is a religious experience, David Corsun says the Michelin Guide is the Bible.

For nearly a century now, the French tire company (yes, that Michelin) has awarded the world’s finest dining establishments with its prestigious, coveted stars. To earn one, two or three stars, inspectors chew on five criteria: quality ingredients, a mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, the chef’s personality, value, and the consistency of the food.

This summer, Michelin announced its anonymous inspectors had begun dining in Colorado’s restaurants, making the Centennial State just the sixth U.S. location included in the guide.

In an interview with the Daniels Newsroom, Corsun, director of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the Daniels College of Business, explained the impact of Michelin’s arrival and what it says about Denver’s food scene.

What did you think when you first heard the news?

I thought: ‘It is fabulous news.’ And it is fabulous news, even if none of the restaurants rate a star or more. The guide has a section called “Bib Gourmande” and also mentions restaurants. So just being in the guide is a good thing. And if Denver can have five restaurants in the guide, even without a star or more, that’s positive. I believe that there is a chance that one or more restaurants can achieve a Michelin star. I think our restaurant community is booming. People are doing really terrific things; there is so much talent in this market, in part evidenced by the number of recent Beard Award winners who are chef-owners.

I won’t say it’s overdue, but I will say it is the right time for this to happen. It speaks to Denver’s popularity as a destination, as more than just an airport jumping off point to the mountain resorts. Denver is one of the top-5 convention destinations in the country and a top tourism destination. Part of the appeal is that we have a really thriving restaurant community and I love that Michelin is coming to rate restaurants here to recognize that talent. They wouldn’t be coming if they didn’t see talent. It’s not accidental.

For those of us non-foodies, help us understand the prestige behind the Michelin name.

It’s the top restaurant review guide in the world. When serious foodies are traveling somewhere, they look at the guide for tips on places to go. And it’s not just for starred restaurants because if you travel somewhere, every meal you eat is not going to be at a starred restaurant—that would be very unusual. For example, my son was studying abroad in Bilbao last fall when my wife and I were on sabbatical. We visited him there and spent three days in San Sebastian. San Sebastian has more Michelin-stars per capita than any other city in the world. It’s got about 130,000 residents and 19 Michelin stars, plus the mentions and the Bib Gourmands.

What a city being in the Michelin guide does—and this is really evident in San Sebastian—is that it really amps up the entire food scene. You’d have to work really hard to find a mediocre meal there. And that’s a really cool thing for a foodie. You can just fall in somewhere and the food’s going to be great—and that’s a place that’s not even in a guide. It’s meaningful because it means everyone has to be on their game. It is an accelerant of the food scene that already exists.

Being in the guide as a city is really important from a marketing perspective, for both conventions and tourism. Those segments are an important economic driver for the city, county and the state of Colorado, in terms of employment and our tax base. Each household in Denver pays hundreds of dollars less in taxes for services than we would if those dollars were not generated by conventions and tourism.

Does Michelin’s arrival have an impact on the other end of things too? Will people who want to open restaurants or want to be part of the food scene gravitate toward a place like Denver now?

That certainly could happen. There are operators and restaurant groups in other parts of the country that, in the pre-COVID years, opened restaurants in Denver because the scene was exploding in the way that it was and the market was a really positive place to be. Restaurants like Quality Italian or Safta. The first restaurant that the chef-owner of Safta operated is in New Orleans. He’s a Beard Award winner for that restaurant. Quality Italian, that’s a New York-based restaurant group. So Denver was a big move for them. Those are just examples of groups that are opening in Denver to be part of the scene. So I think being in the guide certainly could have that kind of impact.

How have you seen the Denver restaurant scene change in the time you’ve lived here?

I’ll say, one thing that hasn’t changed that I love is the prominence of independent operators. We are not a chain town. There are restaurant groups that operate multiple units, often of very different concept, but they are not chains. I think that really provides a lot of character to our restaurant community and to Denver in general, that we have these locals or people who have transplanted and become locals that operate a concept or more and do so really successfully and at a really high level. That is a really important characteristic of our restaurant scene.

One thing that I think is really important to the success of our restaurant community—and it was partly why COVID was so harmful to it—is that it is in great part dependent on meeting and convention business and tourism business. I don’t know that Denver metro locals provide enough support on our own to downtown restaurants to create an opportunity for them to thrive without Denver being such a tourism hub. It’s important for them that there’s been this big bounce back. We’re seeing the convention business rebound in significant ways and future bookings at the convention center and in the convention hotels are very very strong again. That really bodes well for our restaurant scene.

Anything else you would want the Denver metro resident or eater to know?

If you want your favorite restaurant to survive, when you order takeout, order to pick up, rather than delivery. The delivery services charge huge percentages to the restaurants, not just direct to the consumer. If you’re eating home rather than going to the restaurant to dine, it’s basically cannibalizing revenue. Your favorite restaurant can’t survive exclusively on delivery.