What Are Michelin Stars? | Prince of Travel

Restaurants from all over the world compete for Michelin stars. But what exactly are Michelin stars and why are they so important?

I had heard the phrase “Michelin star restaurant” so many times during my tenure in the hospitality industry that it had ingrained itself in my memory and I thought I knew what it meant.

It wasn’t until much later that I took the time to fully understand the merit behind those words, and in this article, I’ll share with you what I learned.

Let’s take a look at the history of Michelin, how the guide came to be what it is today, and what we know about the process for restaurants to earn Michelin stars.

History of the Michelin stars

While the Michelin brand is best recognized for its tires, it is also famous for its Michelin guide.

The Michelin Guide was first printed in 1900 and was initially given away for free until 1922, before Michelin began charging 7 francs for it. It contained maps, instructions on how to replace tires, and information on where to locate gas stations, mechanics, hotels, and restaurants.

With fewer than 3,000 cars on the road at the time, the Michelin brothers André and Édouard thought that by showcasing all the destinations a car could take them, they could attract more people to buy a car and thus increase demand. of your car. tires.

Over time, the Michelin Guide has evolved from a humble roadside guide to a cutting-edge resource for locating culinary excellence, and is known as the “Red Bible” in the world of haute cuisine.

While other guides had come and gone during the 1900s, it was Michelin’s prominence as a tire manufacturer that enabled them to hire more restaurant inspectors and publish a guide that was far superior to the competition.

The guide quickly gained popularity throughout France, and guides were published in several other European countries soon after. Today, the Michelin Guide is published in more than 25 countries.

How do Michelin stars work?

The Michelin star did not appear in the guide until 1926, and it was not until 1931 that a three-star system was introduced. Since then, Michelin stars have quickly earned a reputation as the haute cuisine industry’s highest accolade.

Earning the title of “Michelin Star Restaurant” is generally considered the golden ticket in the restaurant industry and has influenced the careers of chefs and restaurants around the world.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London – Two Michelin stars

But this is no easy task: earning Michelin stars is very difficult, and stars are only awarded to restaurants that Michelin considers to be the best. To further complicate matters, Michelin is keeping secret the specific criteria and review process used to award stars.

So what do the stars mean? Michelin has labeled its ratings as follows:

  • A star: High quality cuisine, worth the stop.
  • two stars: Excellent cuisine, well worth a detour.
  • Three stars: Exceptional cuisine, deserves a special trip

According to Michelin, the inspectors do not take into account the decoration of the restaurant or the quality of the service it offers. Instead, they judge the quality of the food based on five criteria:

  1. Ingredient quality
  2. A chef’s mastery of flavor and cooking techniques.
  3. The chef’s ability to imbue the kitchen with his culinary “personality”
  4. Value for money
  5. Consistency between visits

I find it strange that the personality of the chef is one of the five criteria, since Michelin has publicly stated that the stars are awarded to the restaurant, and not to the chef, but more on this later in the article.

Service, meanwhile, is graded using a five-tier spoon and fork system, with one spoon and fork being “fairly comfortable” and five spoons and forks being “luxury in the traditional style.” [French] style”.

Michelin also gives out the “Bib Gourmand” award, which was created in 1955, as a way of recognizing restaurants that serve good food at moderate prices.

This is a great resource to use while traveling, as it can direct you to high-quality restaurants that offer great value for more modest price points compared to your typical Michelin-starred spot.

Michelin Inspectors

Michelin has done an impressive job of keeping not only its evaluation process secret, but also the identity of its inspectors.

I couldn’t find much information from official sources other than Pascal Remy’s revealing book, The inspector sitswho was fired for posting after 16 years as an inspector.

Inspectors must be experts in their field, have a high degree of attention to detail, and have a love and passion for a wide variety of foods. The job also involves a fair amount of travel, with up to three to four weeks per month on the road and eating more than 250 meals a year.

Belon, Hong Kong – One Michelin star

Inspectors are prohibited from speaking to journalists and are encouraged to keep their line of work secret, even from family members.

The secrecy around Michelin inspectors is to ensure that restaurants cannot manipulate judges through preferential treatment, which could affect the ability to fairly judge a restaurant entirely on its merits.

Michelin Restaurants

As of 2021, there are 2,817 Michelin-starred restaurants, with only 132 holding three stars. I myself visited a three Michelin star restaurant, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, which I reviewed late last year.

The countries with the most restaurants with three Michelin stars are France and Japan, each with 29 establishments. The United States is third with 14, followed by Spain and Italy, tied with 11 each.

Given the guide’s French origins, it’s no surprise that France has the most Michelin stars overall, with 628.

Michelin star chefs are often known for catering to some of the world’s major airlines. I know many of us are looking forward to traveling to Japan this year, and you can enjoy a meal from Michelin-starred chef Jun Mishina at 35,000 feet with Japan Airlines in business class or first class.

Meanwhile, chef Alain Ducasse, three Michelin stars, designs the menu at Air France La Première Lounge Paris.

While many Michelin-starred restaurants are what I’d consider expensive, it’s worth noting that a street vendor stall in Singapore received a Michelin star in 2016. That star has since been lost, but at the time it was the cheapest Michelin in the world. world. -food with a star, only $3.

It is unfortunate that Michelin stars have not yet reached Canada. Know of any noteworthy Canadian restaurants that should make the cut? Let me know in the comments below, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Michelin Guide Critics

“I don’t need Michelin and they don’t need me. They sell tires, I sell food.” —Marco Pierre White

All is not sunshine and rainbows in the world of Michelin, and they have faced heavy criticism from the restaurant industry over the years. Chefs have criticized the rating system, which many feel they have become captive of, as both the restaurant and its customers feel undue levels of pressure to deliver and receive a “Michelin-star” experience.

Atelier Crenn – Geoduck, sea urchin and stone fruit
Atelier Crenn, San Francisco – Three Michelin stars

In 1996, the late Joel Robuchon revoked his three Michelin stars for his restaurant in Paris, claiming he was concerned about his health and trying to meet the guide’s requirements.

When Sebastien Bras and Marc Veyrat asked to have their restaurants removed from the guide, the guide’s international director told them they weren’t theirs to return to, because the stars are given to the restaurant, not the chef.

Noted French chef Bernard Loiseau has tragically killed himself amid press rumors that his restaurant was about to lose its three-star status, while chef Gordon Ramsay says he cried when his New York restaurant lost its three-star status. two stars.

conclusion

Michelin stars can make a restaurant, but they can also ruin a restaurant. I suppose this is an inevitable by-product when the world’s best restaurants compete for the top spot in a field as universal as gastronomy.

It is undeniable that Michelin has established itself as the reference resource when searching for gastronomic options around the world. What started as a promotional guide published by a tire company has become the definitive guide to fine dining for food-interested travelers from all over the world.

I look forward to continuing to explore world cuisine, whether it be at my next Michelin star restaurant, a restaurant with the more modest Bib Gourmand award, or anywhere in between.

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