Everything You Wanted to Know About the Michelin Guide Before You Spend Half of Your Salary on an Expensive Dinner
The Michelin Guide is a red book that millions of chefs from all around the world dream of being listed in. The term “Michelin Star” is associated with unusual masterpieces on plates, incredibly high bills, and reservations you have to wait several months to get. Going to a restaurant mentioned in the Michelin Guide is probably a thing that happens to an ordinary person only once in their lives, and it’s impossible to forget this event.
Bright Side is really curious to know what makes people spend 10-20 times more than usual and wants to tell you what chefs are ready to do to get these precious stars.
What is the Michelin Guide?
- The Michelin Guide has been published by the company that produces tires, with the same name, since 1900. It used to be a guide for motorists in France and was given for free together with a tire purchase. The restaurant section appeared in 1926 and turned out to be really popular. Later, the Michelin brothers had to hire a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants and publish their guides for other countries.
- In 1922, the brothers started selling the guide for $2 after André Michelin, while visiting a tire merchant, noticed copies of the guide being used to prop up a workbench. They removed all the advertisements, and even today there are still no ads.
- In the guide, there are several designations: “Comfortable restaurant.” “Magnificent view,” and so on. But readers are mostly interested in stars. One star indicates that a restaurant is really good in its category. 2 stars mean that a restaurant has excellent cuisine and it’s worth of changing your route. 3 stars indicate that a restaurant is worth a special journey to try its exceptional cuisine.
- Michelin stars are given for the quality of food only. Things like elegant decor, service, atmosphere, and the location of a restaurant are never taken into account. To assess these features, there is a “fork and spoon” designation. The more forks and spoons a restaurant has, the better, especially if they’re red.
- Restaurants aren’t allowed to use the information about their stars for commercial purposes. Michelin recommends that mentioning a restaurant in the guide is a great ad in and of itself. Those who break the rule could be excluded from the list.
- One of the most common claims about the guide is that it prefers French chefs and French cuisine. Many times, they’ve been blamed for being biased against beginners and favoring their old friends such as Paul Bocuse. Though the guide denies any of these accusations.
- To become a Michelin inspector, you have to take a 6-month-long course. Then a trainee works together with an experienced inspector. Only after that, does a person start trying dishes and writing reports on their own. By the way, almost any person can apply for this position.
- Michelin is ready to do anything to keep the inspectors’ names a secret. Even some directors have never met them in person. During a dinner, an inspector isn’t allowed to write anything down so they don’t give themselves away. They’re prohibited from talking to journalists and recommended to say vaguely, “I work at a publishing company” to their friends and even relatives if they’re asked where they work.
- They’re allowed to take photos of food since people often do this, and it’s not that suspicious.
- A Michelin Guide editor in Great Britain, Rebecca Burr, says that inspectors look for restaurants that might deserve an award. They look through different tourist websites, read local press, listen to what people say, and ask for advice.
- To assess a restaurant (especially if it’s going to be the first star), it’s visited 2-3 times. The first time, an inspector has lunch, the next time, they have a dinner, and then they try a dish that they’ve already tried before: to check and see if the kitchen is always consistent.
- It’s better if they don’t have any problem with metabolism: an inspector has to eat at least 2 complete lunches a day. They aren’t allowed to try their dish and leave it.
- As a rule, an inspector chooses 2 dishes that may show a chef’s potential and skills: with lots of ingredients, that is hard to cook, and with an unusual design. Inspectors usually don’t order soups or salads.
- Pascal Rémy, an ex-Michelin inspector who was fired after 16 years for his intention to publish his diaries, says that in France, there were only 5 inspectors. They had to visit around 10,000 restaurants a year, which was impossible. By the way, their earnings are not that impressive.
- In 2008, Juliane Caspar, from Germany, became a Michelin Guide editor in France. She was the first woman and person born in a different country who had gotten this job. German magazine Die Welt described the move as a “sensation” given that “German cuisine is regarded as a lethal weapon in most parts of France.”
- Famous French chef Bernard Loiseau, the prototype of Gusteau from Ratatouille, had been dreaming of 3 stars since he was 15. When he got them, his main focus became to keep them. The pressure was so high, that Loiseau couldn’t cope with it because of rumors that he was about to lose a star, so he committed suicide in 2003. In 1966, another chef, Allen Zeke, shot himself after losing a star, and in 1990, Alain Chapel died of heart attack — his restaurant had lost one star from their 3-star rating.
- The whole world found out that Bernard Loiseau was dead the same day he committed suicide. Nevertheless, the restaurant named in his honor never stopped working. By the way, it managed to keep its 3 stars for several more years.
- The world’s most noble chefs are Joël Robuchon (who died in 2018 at the age of 73) with 31 stars and Alain Ducasse with 21 stars, both are from France. The audacious Gordon Ramsay, from Great Britain, is in 3rd place with 16 stars. Among female chefs, Carme Ruscalleda from Barcelona has the largest amount of stars — 7.
Chef Joël Robuchon during a culinary festival in Las Vegas, 2014
- For many chefs around the world, getting and keeping Michelin stars is an obsession. They work 16 hours a day, don’t get enough sleep, and live in constant tension. Their employees also suffer: verbal abuse and assaults are really common in Michelin-starred restaurants.
- Each year, on the eve of the guides release, a Michelin representative calls chefs and informs them that they’re either going to get or lose their 3rd star.
Gordon Ramsay once claimed that he cried when he knew his restaurant lost a star. Nominally, it didn’t belong to Gordon, but it was still called in his honor. On one talk show, Ramsay said that losing stars is like both “losing a girlfriend” and “losing the Champions League.”
How do you get a star?
- Michelin Guide creators always remind people that stars are given to restaurants, not chefs. Even if a chef leaves a restaurant, it won’t affect the award ceremony.
- A star isn’t an Oscar, you can’t touch it. It’s recognition, which is relevant here and now. Nevertheless, a particular chef is usually associated with the stars — it’s a pretty common thing. There are lists of chefs with the number of awards they have, and Michelin stars are called Culinary Oscars.
- Paul Bocuse’s restaurant near Lyon has kept 3 stars since 1965, it’s a world record. Paul Bocuse was born in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or in 1926 and died in the same room, right above his own restaurant, in 2018.
- One of the most expensive restaurants that has Michelin stars is SubliMotion in Ibiza. A 3-hour-long show would cost one person $1761. You’ll be able to try 20 dishes from the tasting menu and enjoy a design that is aimed at awaking all 5 senses.
- Michelin restaurants pay a lot of attention to unusual food presentation and design. Don’t get surprised if you’re offered potato soup that looks like a flower pot in the restaurant Noma, in Copenhagen. But the restaurant Quince in San Francisco beats all records: a dish called “A Dog In Search Of Gold” is plated on an iPad.
- In New York, Michelin restaurant worker Daniel says that waiters listen to what customers talk about and look for information about them on the internet before they come. For example, knowing that a person is celebrating something or that they’re a local or a tourist helps the staff to provide them with the best service. In the US, the waiter and the customer are often from the same state.
- “That’s the best cooking. You don’t change a recipe that works,” Paul Bocuse, the most honored chef of France, said. Michelin restaurants follow this rule and don’t change their menus for years, but not all chefs are ready to work like machines.
- Michelin representatives don’t inspect restaurants in some countries. Not very long ago, the Michelin Guide started paying attention to Asia and North America. But it ignores Eastern European countries and Russia.
- First of all, inspectors don’t go to Russia because of the bad roads, since initially, the guide was created for motorists. They’re also concerned about corruption. There’s one more issue: French people don’t understand Russian cuisine and have no idea how to assess it.
Chefs with Michelin stars: Jay Fai (left) and Christophe De Lellis (right).
- Street food restaurants also get stars. They’re all located in Asia: Singapore, Hong Kong, and since 2017, Jay Fai’s restaurant in Bangkok. All dishes are cooked by Jay Fai on her own. This lady in ski goggles and a hat (her unique style) created her crab omelet and got a star.
- Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, despite its name, is located in Singapore and is considered to be the cheapest restaurant with a Michelin star. You’ll have a chance to try a dish that costs $2, but you’ll have to spend a lot of time waiting in line.
- According to Michelin, Tokyo is the world’s food capital. There are more stars there in total, than in France. And Switzerland is the country that has the highest density of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world.
- Today, there are 121 restaurants with 3 Michelin stars. 29 of them are located in Tokyo, 27 in France, and 14 in the USA.
What do the stars stand for?
- In 2017, Michelin gave a star to a small restaurant for blue collar workers in the town of Bourges by mistake. The Michelin Guide confused the café with a more refined establishment called Le Bouche à Oreille near Paris. The error brought lots of customers who wanted to book a table in the tiny restaurant.
- Master of the Michelin-star game Joël Robuchon claimed, "With one Michelin star, you get about 20% more business. 2 stars, you do about 40% more business, and with 3 stars, you'll do about 100% more business." London Elloy owners said that after getting one star, their business went up by over a third. So the financial benefits are obvious.
- A study conducted at George Washington University showed that restaurants with one Michelin star increase their prices increase by 15%, with 2 stars - by 55%, and with 3 stars - by 80%.
- A great example is the street food cafe, Jay Fai, in Bangkok, which got one star in 2017. Tom yum with shrimp costs around 1000 baht, while at other street cafes, it's 10 times cheaper. But there are still many customers who aren't afraid of the 7-hour-long lines that they have to stand in to get inside.
- But a star may also lead to bankruptcy - this what happened to the restaurant Esperanto in Stockholm, which was named the best several times. The thing is, the regular visitors are locals and they don't usually go to restaurants with a star. Some of them don't like high prices, others - don't like the amount of tourists. By the way, the owners' expenses also grow since they have to hire a more qualified staff and pay for personnel training.
Sébastien Bras and his father Michel Bras in their restaurant
- Chef Sébastien Bras publicly refused 3 Michelin stars in 2017 and asked the guide to exclude the restaurant from the list. He said that he wanted to work in a more comfortable atmosphere and was tired of the constant pressure while cooking, thinking that that very that dish could go to an inspector. At first, the guide creators weren’t against it, but in 2019, they included the restaurant in the list again, but with 2 stars, making it clear that it’s impossible to leave the guide on your own will.
- Julio Biosca, the owner of Casa Julio in Valencia, decided to get rid of Michelin stars in 2013. He realized that having stars was limiting different innovations and said that his restaurant wasn’t going to have a tasting menu anymore.
- Belgian chef Frederick Dhooge also refused his star because his will to cook tasty traditional food (e.g. fried chicken) differed from some customers’ will to enjoy a culinary show.
Chef and owner of Petersham Nurseries Café, Skye Gyngell, and a breakfast in her restaurant
- The London restaurant that’s decorated in shabby chic style, Petersham Nurseries Café, got a star in 2011, and the number of customer complaints rose. They liked the food, but they were completely dissatisfied with the fact that there were no tablecloths, that the service was informal, and that the servings were simple. In order to not have to adapt to the tastes of the customers, Skye Gyngell decided to refuse the star and said once, “If I ever have another restaurant, I pray we don’t get a star.”
- Harvard Business School Professor Gary Pisano thinks that refusing a star in public is a rather smart approach: “Once you give it up, it can no longer be taken away. It’s like if you quit, you can no longer be fired. On the one hand, customers know you had a star, on the other hand, you avoid strict reviewers.”
Do you like haute cuisine? Have you ever been to a Michelin restaurant or do you think it’s better to spend money on more important things?