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Bi-weekly podcast

Michelin Guide, L.A. to Paso Robles, LGBTQ+ Travel

Meet an anonymous Michelin inspector and learn how he helped anoint 90 California restaurants with coveted stars

In an unprecedented move, California Now Podcast host Soterios Johnson does not introduce listeners to one of his guests during this episode. That’s because Johnson’s first interview is with a Michelin inspector—an anonymous restaurant critic who goes undercover to determine which establishments receive one, two, or three stars. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes at a revered restaurant establishment, and the timing couldn’t be better since Michelin recently released its 2019 California Michelin Guide, the first statewide collection of restaurant reviews in its long history. Our guest—we call him “Mr. Inspector”—shares all sorts of insights about what it takes to make the grade, and why California is such a dynamic dining destination.

Food is a focal point for his second guest, too. Aida Mollenkamp, the host of Food Network’s Ask Aida and the editorial director of Salt & Wind Travel, leads listeners on a Central Coast road trip that begins in Los Angeles, stops in Ventura and Santa Barbara, and ends in Paso Robles. Along the way she points out the best places to grab strawberries, oysters, Pinot Noir, tri-tip, and much more.

The episode also includes an insightful conversation about LGBTQ+ travel in California. Scott Gatz, the CEO and founder of the travel site Gay Cities, discusses the Golden State’s long history as a welcoming destination. He and Johnson talk about some of California’s most popular gay-friendly cities—including the Castro in San Francisco, West Hollywood, and Palm Springs—as well as some lesser-known locales.


“Mr. Inspector,” Michelin restaurant evaluator

Aida Mollenkamp, Founder and Editor in Chief, Salt & Wind Travel

Scott Gatz, Founder and CEO, Q.Digital


Our anonymous Michelin inspector shares insights about he and his colleagues evaluate restaurants—including all 657 honored restaurants in California.

2019 Michelin Guide California

California’s Michelin Star Restaurants

Michelin’s rating system

Michael Cimarusti


Niki Nakayama


Los Angeles’ Michelin Star Restaurants


Atelier Crenn


Harbor House Inn

Food writer and travel expert Aida Mollenkamp takes us on one of her favorite food-forward excursions, from Los Angeles to Paso Robles.

Salt & Wind Travel

Los Angeles

Highway 1


The Jolly Oyster

San Buenaventura State Beach

Patagonia headquarters

Ventura Farmers’ Market

Santa Barbara

The Funk Zone

The Valley Project

Les Marchands


Leadbetter Beach

Cold Spring Tavern

Cachuma Reservoir

Los Olivos

Los Olivos General Store

Stolpman Vineyards

Los Alamos

Bob’s Well Bread Bakery

Paso Robles

Hotel Cheval

Thomas Hill Organics

Scott Gatz, who created Gay Cities, Queerty, and other media brands, discusses why California deserves its reputation as an LGBTQ+-friendly destination.

Gay Cities

LGBTQ Travel in California

Harvey Milk

The Castro

LGBTQ Travel in San Francisco

LGBTQ Travel in Los Angeles

LGBTQ Travel in San Diego

LGBTQ Travel in Palm Springs

West Hollywood

LGBTQ Travel in the Napa Valley

LGBTQ Travel in Sonoma County

Out in the Vineyard

L.A. Pride

San Francisco Pride

San Diego Pride

Oakland Pride

Silicon Valley Pride

Sacramento Pride

About the Host

Soterios Johnson, formerly the local host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on radio station WNYC, moved from New York City to Davis, Calif., in 2016 and is just getting to know his surroundings. By combining his journalistic instincts with his personal curiosity, Johnson will use the California Now platform to develop a deeper understanding of his adopted home.