At Wednesday's party to celebrate the release of the first Michelin Chicago guide, there was a lot of chatter, but not much talk.
Jean-Luc Naret, the guide's director, didn't want to talk about the leak on Yelp that forced him to move up by one day the announcement of which Chicago restaurants snagged the coveted stars.
Laurent Gras, recipient of three stars for his work at L2O, didn't want to talk about his departure from the restaurant that had previously been couched in vague "for personal reasons" terms.
"I think we're pretty done with that. We just want to celebrate why we're here," said the Gucci-wearing Gras, who had flown back to Chicago from his home in New York to attend the fete at the Cultural Center. With him was wife Jennifer Leuzzi.
On Tuesday, it appeared Gras was L2O limbo -- at least to his boss, Rich Melman, who said he'd already started tweaking the menu here and there in Gras' absence. Earlier Wednesday, the ground had shifted, with Gras telling the Food & Wine blog that he and Melman, his now former boss, "always had different points of view on L2O" and telling the Eater Chicago blog that he's working on a new project in New York.
Even at shoulder's length, Gras was a hot topic among other chefs and party attendees, who still were scratching their heads at possibly the weirdest Michelin guide launch in history.
"I had this whole plan for how Wednesday [the original announcement day] would go," said Frank Brunacci, chef at Sixteen, which won one star. "The first call was going to be to my wife. The second call was going to be to my sous chef. Instead, I'm getting calls from friends in London and wherever, telling me they saw [the leak] online."
Weird, not surprisingly, still felt good to Michael Carlson, chef at Schwa, which also garnered one star. "It's exciting. It's always good to be acknowledged for what we do," he said. Asked if the Michelin rating will prompt him to change the way he or the restaurant operates -- like, say, adding a phone line -- he said, "I know it's faulty, but we like our formula." As for feeling the pressure from now on, he said, "Nah. I obsess about weirder things, like washing my hands 1,000 times."
And what of the little red guide itself, finally in the chefs' hands? More than a few chefs wondered aloud why stalwarts like Les Nomades didn't get a star. The team from Avenues, a two-star winner, said their listing was "outdated" -- it described a dish from a good 18 months ago. And Sprout's spunky chef Dale Levitski called the guide "too short and too small."
"Not enough restaurants got the stars they deserve," Levitski said. "Only two three-stars is bullshit. I think they were short 20 restaurants and stars. And I promise that we will get one star next year."
Next year -- this much they're talking about.