What do a tire company, a four star restaurant, and a line up around the block have in common? They are the three elements that make up the craziness of Michelin Stars.
If hearing “Michelin” makes you think of the marshmallow-like Michelin Man you’re on the right (tire) track: it’s the same company. How did a tire company become responsible for handing out some of the most prestigious restaurant rankings of all time? It began in France.
In 1900, two brothers wrote a book in an attempt to get more cars on the roads (there were only three thousand cars at the time) by featuring restaurants and destinations in cities and towns. The brothers, André and Edouard Michelin, were business partners in a tire business, and they likely had no idea that their book, The Michelin Guide, would become such a big deal over a century later.
Now a series of country specific guides, being awarded stars is the definitive career goal for many chefs. Though the stars aren’t without controversy: some restaurants have complained about the unwanted attention a star has brought them, others take issue with the selection and awarding of stars, and even some very famous chefs claim they don’t want one.
How do they decide who gets a star?
The inspectors are so secret and unknown that often their families have no idea they are connected to the Michelin Guide. At a restaurant, encouraged to blend in with the other customers, they dine alone, hiding in plain sight. Using Michelin’s list of criteria, and their own advanced palate, they then write a detailed report about the food. Once a year all of the inspectors meet in secret and decide which restaurants are deserving of what stars and who will make it into the guide.
Unlike magazine reviews and best restaurant lists that can be lengthy and detailed, the Michelin Guide uses simple icons and symbols to point out details about restaurants and keeps their descriptions to two lines. But most importantly are the number of stars awarded and what they mean.
The 3 star ranking was developed over time and stands as follows:
❃ One star: “A very good restaurant in its category”.
❃❃ Two stars: "Excellent cooking, worth a detour".
❃❃❃ Three stars: "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey".
Why does everyone care so much?
Getting even one star can completely change the life of a restaurant, with lineups and waitlists filling up for months into the future as soon as a new guide is released. Conversely, the loss of a star can spell detrimental results for chefs and restaurants, such as when Gordon Ramsay lost stars at a restaurant in NYC: allegedly he cried and stated it was like “losing a girlfriend”. Chef Skye Gyngell went as far as to request her star be removed because it had set the expectation of customers too high and the star was a “curse”.
Being awarded a star from the Michelin Guide is a big deal for some chefs and a nuisance for others. It can drive people crazy or drive traffic and success. Which if you think about it, was kind of the goal in the first place!
About the Author
Andrea is a Content Marketing Specialist and Editor at TouchBistro where she writes about restaurant and dining trends, restaurant management, and food culture. A self-affirmed food geek, Andrea devours cookbooks and food blogs. She also knows how to make a killer kale salad.More Content by Andrea Victory