Most people are aware of Michelin the tyre company and their famous logo Michelin Man the roly-poly tyre man, or Monsieur Bibendum which is his real name. His image is known the world over and he does an excellent job of promoting the company’s tyres.
Michelin is also famous for ranking restaurants, achieving a Michelin star status is like the Holy Grail for chefs – to have one is to be acknowledged as amongst the elite, to have reached the pinnacle of one’s profession. For customers it is in an indication that the restaurant that has been awarded a Michelin star status will almost certainly guarantee an epicurean experience, a high quality meal, a great ambience.
When did Michelin start ranking restaurants?
It all started off nearly a century ago. In 1900, Michelin gave away their first free guides to driving in France, the intention was to increase awareness of driving, and of course the need for tyres. Michelin started to print guides for other countries in ensuing years. The guide had maps and helpful information and Michelin started to introduce reviews of hotels and restaurants, the latter in particular proved very popular with readers (who by now had to pay for the guide).
In 1926 Michelin started to conduct ratings with a star award for top restaurants. In the next ten years they added a second and third star ranking. Stars were awarded via a team of inspectors that Michelin recruited to visit the restaurants anonymously. The idea was to consider the quality of food, consistency and the chef’s mastery of cooking. The Michelin Red Guide (which started off as a blue guide) to restaurants has been successful ever since.
The Michelin Star ranking system
One star: “Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie – “A very good restaurant in its category”
Two stars: “Table excellente, mérite un détour” – “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”
Three stars: “Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage” – “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”
Being awarded a star is a huge accolade for a chef and can help to increase a restaurant’s success and the charges the price of a meal.
A Michelin Star is like an Oscar in the food world, winners will be featured in newspapers, on TV – their expertise acknowledged for the whole world to see.
So powerful is this star rating system considered now that it was said that a French chef committed suicide ten years ago when a rumour reached him that he was about to lose one of his cherished Michelin Stars after a secret visit by inspectors.
The number of star ratings changes annually with the publication of a new guide but just over 2000 restaurants achieve the coveted status. When you consider how many restaurants there are in the world covered by the Michelin inspections – you can understand just why so many chefs desire the recognition.
Is Michelin a guide to the best restaurants in the world?
No, it isn’t because it doesn’t rate all the restaurants in the world. It covers several countries but not necessarily an entire country. For instance whilst the guide may rate restaurants in New York – it doesn’t rate restaurants in Dallas. Whilst it might rate Indian restaurants in London, it doesn’t rate restaurants in India.
Some detractors say that the guide is very French cuisine oriented. Fans say that it is a trusted guide. Michelin star rankings aren’t the whole story, the guide also rates restaurants in given areas for value, comfort, food, interesting points and views. Bib Gourmande status in the book also counts for a lot (named after Monsieur Bibendum/Michelin Man).
Who are the Michelin inspectors?
It’s a very secretive outfit. The guide doesn’t say how many inspectors there are or how they came to their ranking conclusion. Inspectors are supposed to keep their jobs secret, rumour has it that not even their families must know about it – much like being a CIA agent.
They enter restaurants supposedly anonymously, allegedly several times to check for consistency. Their remit is to check if “the food’s plating stimulates the palate and is the portion size appropriate? Do the aromas of the dish please and entice, or overwhelm and repulse? Even sound comes into play with a delightful crunch of an item… flavours to be pronounced or subtle, depending on the circumstance… the question of value: Is our level of enjoyment relative to the price of our meal?”
Michelin website for restaurant info: www.viamichelin.com
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