The phrases “Michelin star” and “Michelin restaurant” are familiar to anyone who has ever been even slightly interested in haute cuisine. In terms of its status, Michelin star is close, in the opinion of many people, to the conquest of conventional culinary Everest – only heaven is higher. Let’s find out more about who and why a Michelin star is awarded, and what it means for a restaurant and its guests.
From road guide to mega-rated haute cuisine
Michelin is known worldwide as the manufacturer of tires for automobiles. So what does it have to do with cooking? It’s very simple. It was in the interest of the tire manufacturer to get as many people as possible involved in automobile tourism. And to do this it is necessary to make such trips as comfortable as possible. André Michelin, who was at the head of the company, had the great idea – to publish a guidebook that would show in detail the locations of parking lots, hotels, restaurants, cafes, service points, which can be used on the road. And in 1900, the first Michelin Guide saw the light of day.
Initially it was a free publication, distributed at gas stations and contained a lot of advertising. That’s when the first restaurant stars appeared. True, they meant only that the prices in the marked restaurant were higher than average. A little later it became clear: everything free is automatically perceived as not very serious. Then the policy of the publication changed – advertisements disappeared from it and the guidebook began to be sold for money.
In 1926, Michelin guides began to mark French establishments with the best cuisine with a star. At first there was only one star, in the next ten years the scale was expanded to add two more. The geography of the publication also began to expand in front of our eyes, as interest in automobiles grew worldwide. At present the Michelin guidebooks are still published practically in all European countries, as well as in big cities of other continents: in Singapore, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Tokyo, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and others.
What Michelin stars say
There are two types of Michelin guides: Green and Red. The first is devoted to the sights of countries and cities, and the second contains the “star” ratings of restaurants. However, in the Red Guide you can find not only stars, it has a lot of useful information for the foodie and just a hungry tourist, marked with other symbols:
- The establishments marked with a coin offer a good meal at a very low price;
- “non-star” restaurants are marked with a crossed knife and fork – these icons can be from 1 to 5, and they mean the quality level of the restaurant;
- a smiling “Bib Gourmet” draws attention to places where you can enjoy exceptional food for a reasonable price;
- there are symbols for the quality of the wine list and other aspects, including even the view from the restaurant window.
However, it is the famous “stars” that interest us. They literally mean the following:
- One star is a great restaurant in its category.
- Two stars – you can deviate from the planned route to visit this restaurant.
- Three stars – exceptional food that is worth the trip.
Who are the judges?
It is believed that having even one Michelin star automatically puts a place in the world’s culinary elite. Naturally, the question arises: who assigns them? After all, such an assessment is a considerable responsibility to the chef and the restaurant’s guests. A whole staff of special Michelin inspectors is responsible for this. There are about 90 of them, 70 of whom work in Europe. The work is not easy – the experts spend their lives in continuous travel. In a year, each of them visits about 800 restaurants in different countries.
Importantly, the inspectors are completely anonymous. No one knows their faces or names, they visit establishments unexpectedly, usually during rush hour. They order, dine, pay and leave without attracting any attention to themselves. There is no way to know when your restaurant is going to be visited by an expert, and the visits happen more than once. To be awarded a first star, international inspectors visit a restaurant at least four times. A second star is awarded after a minimum of ten visits. Establishments that already have stars are visited every 18 months to verify that they maintain their declared level. That is, you can not only get a coveted star, but also lose it if the restaurant no longer meets the high criteria of the guidebook.
An unmasked expert, like a scout, can say goodbye to his job forever. A few years ago, former Michelin inspector Pascal Remy published a scandalous book, “The Inspector Sits at the Table,” in which he criticized the current restaurant rating system. Of course, he was suspended and the court dismissed his lawsuit against Michelin for allegedly unfair dismissal.
Not every connoisseur of haute cuisine can become a Michelin inspector. The requirements are as follows:
- Higher education in the field of hotel business;
- work experience in the service industry at least 5 years;
- Successful completion of several stages of the interview.
The applicant who passes this selection process lunches with the superintendent and then compiles a detailed meal report. And then another six months of kitchen evaluation training. Only after that does the expert begin working independently. Based on his and his colleagues’ reports, decisions are made to award stars. Each year, in this way are evaluated about 45 thousand restaurants. The frequency of the Michelin Guide is once every year and a half.
How to earn a Michelin star
What are the merits of a Michelin-starred restaurant? We should say right away that the exact criteria are a trade secret of the company and are not disclosed. One of the company’s inspectors, Pascal Remy, in 2004, broke the secrecy and published a book in which he accused the guide experts of bias. Naturally, he lost his job immediately – and even a court ruled that his dismissal was justified.
However, we do know some things. The first place among the criteria is definitely the cuisine. Quality of service, atmosphere, restaurant interior, prices – all this is secondary. The decisive factor is the work of restaurant’s chef, and experts clearly give preference to haute cuisine in French interpretation of this term. This is understandable, given the French origin of the guide. Since the author’s dishes are a prerequisite for the “stardom” of a restaurant, the institution can lose a star if the chef leaves it. It is also obvious that one of the important evaluation parameters is the unique design of dishes.
However, the French view of haute cuisine does not always dominate the guide. In 2016, for example, a Singapore fast-food stand was awarded a Michelin star. For its owner, Chan Hong Men, it came as a real shock. “We don’t rate the place, we rate the food,” Michelin officials replied to his perplexed question as to how this could even be possible. At the time, Chan Hong Men’s humble establishment was already 35 years old. Over the years, people lined up every morning even before the tent opened to eat chicken in soy sauce with rice or vegetables in oyster sauce. In the end, the cook’s skills were also appreciated by international inspectors.
Another example. In 2010, the leader on the number of “star” restaurants suddenly became Japan. Many of the Japanese chefs even questioned whether it is really worth it to adopt a star – after all, its presence sharply increases the attendance of the restaurant and customer expectations, and this is not all positively reflected on its level. By the way, for this reason European restaurants sometimes refuse to accept a star.
By the way, the guide’s rules state that a restaurant cannot use Michelin stars for its own advertising. In other words, the restaurant must not inform the visitors about its “stardom” in any way – they should find it out exclusively from the guidebook or the Michelin website.
You can either admit or not the validity of inclusion of restaurants in the Michelin Red Guide, but today in fact it is the most authoritative publication in the culinary world. The classic of haute cuisine, Paul Bocuse, called it the only guide that matters.