A Michelin Star.
Revered in the foodservice industry. One of the most esteemed honors a restaurant can ever hope to achieve, is to join the ranks of Michelin Star Restaurants. The standard by which flavor, culinary artisanship, and innovation are measured across the globe.
And they are tossed around like frisbees by a giant white rubber man named Bibendum – you know, the Michelin Man – who only started doing it in the first place to sell more tires.
Er… something like that.
What is a Michelin Star? For all my years working in restaurants, I have (apparently) always been woefully ignorant of what Michelin stars actually ARE. Where they came from, is there a Michelin Guide, how they are awarded, and who the auspicious individuals are that get to make such delicious decisions.
A brief history: in the late 1800s, Edouard and Andre Michelin were running a rubber factory. Naturally, with the advent of the automobile, the boys were anxious to get tire production rolling (sorry), but quickly realized that not enough people had bought into the idea of the new-fangled vehicle to make their endeavor lucrative. So, they decided to entice people onto the road with their first Michelin Guide, published in 1900. Listing gas stations and garages as well as recommendations on meals and lodging, it was deemed “a small guide to improve mobility”… and thus, of course, tire sales.
By 1926, the restaurant portion of the guide had evolved to be a more in-depth, specific look at eateries, and began awarding single stars to particularly exceptional establishments. In 1931, stars 2 and 3 arrived on the scene, denoting – very much in road trip-y terms – the quality of a restaurant:
One star – A very good restaurant in its category.
Two stars – Excellent cooking. Worth a detour. (detour… get it? Road trip?)
Three Stars – Exceptional cuisine. Worth a special journey. (Journey! Like, on wheels, preferably.)
Obviously, the stars stuck, and continue to inspire frenzied chefs as they strive for even one distinguished star.
But HOW are these illustrious honors awarded?
It starts with the “inspectors,” who are exactly as hardcore as they sound. Shrouded in mystery, Michelin goes to extreme lengths to ensure the anonymity of their inspectors, who are advised to keep their line of work a secret even from their closest relatives. It’s basically the CIA of food… i.e. as cool as a human being can possibly get.
These inspectors are Michelin employees, generally with extensive experience in the hospitality industry. Eating around 250 (presumably exquisite) meals and staying at more than 160 (practically perfect) hotels a year, the inspectors prepare reports about each experience, holding restaurants to exacting criteria in 5 areas –
- The quality of the ingredients
- The flair and skill in preparing them
- The chef’s personality as revealed through the cuisine
- The value for the money
- The consistency of culinary standards
Service doesn’t count. Décor doesn’t count. How long it takes to find parking doesn’t count. The stars represent the food and the food alone, and they are not awarded until a consensus is reached by the inspectors, the Editor-in-Chief of the particular country’s guide, and the Director of Publications. And since the same criteria are used at every restaurant around the globe, with inspectors visiting star candidates multiple times, this system ensures maximum consistency of deliciousness (it’s a technical term).
So the next time you find yourself at a Michelin-rated joint – which I’m assuming happens frequently, you classy people – consider how much went into that rating. Remember how chefs slave for years to achieve that distinction. Reflect on the fact that you are there because a couple of French dudes with out-of-control beards wanted you to wear those tires down.
…Or, you know, don’t. Whatever. Just enjoy your meal.
Find out what new Tech Michelin Star Restaurants are using these days.