When I say “Michelin”, depending who you are, one of two things should come to mind, either the white rubber mascot known fondly as the Michelin Man (the distant light-skinned French cousin of South Africa’s Oros man) or you’ll be thinking about gourmet cuisine and the star rating that names the best restaurants and chefs around the world. Allow me to let you in on a little secret…the Michelin Man and the Michelin Stars come from the SAME French tyre company Michelin. Shocking I know.
Over 100 years ago Édouard and André Michelin of Michelin tyres decided to create a free guide for French motorists, which included maps, hotels, service stations and restaurants to better equip motorists with the fairly new concept of road travel. Over the years the guide has changed and has now morphed into the ultimate expression of high society foodie snobbery. But before all of this,in 1936 the stars were rated as follows:
one star meant: “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
two stars meant: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
three stars meant: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage)
According to the current rating process these are still the measurements used. But let’s be clear, I’m pretty sure going to a one Michelin star restaurant will leave you with much more than a “very good” dining experience. But we have to love the French for unwaveringly sticking to tradition and making the rest of us feel like plebs for even trying(or tyring?).
The stars take into account the quality, mastery of technique and consistency of the food. As opposed to other guides they focus mainly on the food. The reviewers or inspectors as they are known, are completely anonymous and provide an in-depth report, though the criteria of the report are not publicly known. This is followed by discussion with other inspectors before deciding on a final rating. As hard as it is for a restaurant to achieve Michelin stars, they don’t last forever and the guide is being constantly updated. Though for some chefs their entire aim is to be awarded a Michelin star or stars, in recent years some chefs have regarded the prestigious award as a curse as it drives up numbers of customers to an unmanageable number and the added pressure to perform and maintain standards has made life increasingly hard on the restaurant and its employees. Some restaurants have even turned down the award for fear of the consequences or because they believe Michelin ratings aint shit.
Just a second ago I was complaining about the French and their passion for tradition, but they have made some strides into inclusion, well as inclusive as Epicureans can be. In 1955 the Guide also started mentioning restaurants that offer exceptional food at moderate prices. This is known as the Bib Gourmand. The guide extended to The States in 2005, which may be the reason that Michelin stars have been floating around mainstream cinema and general life in the last 10 years more so than before.
Currently (July 2019) Tokyo is the city with the most Michelin starred restaurants, with a (g)astronomical 230 Michelin recognised restaurants. Second on the list is Paris, followed by Kyoto, Osaka and New York is currently in 5th position. So if you find yourself in any of these cities and have the 411 on the history of the Michelin stars to make you even more fancy schmancy, Bon Appetit!