What is a Michelin Star?
Considered by many to be the ultimate mark of culinary excellence, what is a Michelin star and how to get one? Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants judged to be particularly high standards. Evaluated restaurants can be awarded one, two, or three stars, and this distinction is highly coveted by chefs worldwide.
But what is the history of the Michelin star? And how did a tire company become a reference in the world of cuisine? The Michelin Guide has been published annually since 1900 and was originally intended to help drivers find mechanics, hotels, and good restaurants when traveling. The star system was first introduced in 1926, with a single star designating “a very good restaurant.” Second and third stars were added in 1933, with two stars meaning “excellent cuisine worth a visit” and the three stars “exceptional cuisine worth a special trip.”
In the years that followed, the program’s popularity spread abroad, with guides published for major cities worldwide. The company also enlisted the legendary Michelin inspectors. It developed the rigorous testing system that has made the Michelin Guide the gastronomic bible it is today.
How are Michelin stars awarded?
Unlike other rating systems, Michelin stars are not based on customer reviews but on undercover inspections by anonymous food experts known as Michelin inspectors. Inspectors remain anonymous to avoid preferential treatment and undergo formal training at the Michelin Guide in France. They are not allowed to speak to the press. Still, it is generally believed that most will have at least some experience in the restaurant industry. Anyone wishing to become a Michelin inspector must be passionate and knowledgeable about food, with good attention to detail and the ability to blend in with ordinary customers.
The judging criteria are the same for each restaurant, focusing on the quality of ingredients, cooking techniques, and, most importantly, taste. Michelin stars are awarded solely on the level of cuisine, so inspectors will not consider such things as restaurant decoration or ambiance when awarding stars. However, comfort and quality are rated from 1 to 5 using a crossed fork and spoon symbol.
Restaurateurs are not informed of the inspection date, and an inspector may return approximately 3-6 times before reporting back to fellow inspectors, who then make a joint decision on whether to award stars. A restaurant can be rated from 0 to 3 stars. There is also a “Bib Gourmand” award for restaurants offering quality cuisine at a reasonable price.
Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants rather than individual chefs, so chefs who run more than one establishment can hold more than three stars. The record for the most Michelin stars belonged to the late Joel Robuchon, who once held 32 Michelin stars in total. Most restaurants, however, will not meet Michelin standards and the majority of restaurants inspected get zero stars.
Those that do are re-inspected frequently and can lose their stars if inspectors feel that standards have slipped. Even the most famous chefs can fall under the strict standards of Michelin inspectors. Gordon Ramsay took the brunt of it when his New York restaurant was stripped of its stars, saying it was like “losing a girlfriend.” Restaurants can try to regain lost stars in subsequent years’ Guide. Still, since the exact judging criteria are not known, this can sometimes be a difficult task.
One Michelin star
“A very good kitchen, worth the step!”, According to the current Michelin guide. A Michelin star may be the lowest price, but it’s still a great distinction. It can denote a new culinary talent that may be worth watching in the future. Only a tiny proportion of restaurants in the world hold even one star – the city with the most is currently Tokyo, with 161 Michelin-starred restaurants out of tens of thousands in the city.
Notable establishments with a Michelin star include Hawker Chan, a hawker stand in Singapore recognized in 2016 for its delicious street food. Foodies on a budget can buy Hawker Chan’s award-winning chicken and soy noodles for about $2.
Two Michelin stars
“Excellent cuisine, well worth a visit,” according to the Michelin Guide. Michelin two-star restaurants are even rarer, with only 414 in the world as of early 2020.
Two-star restaurants offer consistent quality cuisine and are run by the best chefs in the business. These are likely to be well-known establishments in the culinary world, and many will have long waiting lists for reservations.
Notable restaurants awarded two Michelin stars include London’s Le Gavroche, specializing in classic French cuisine and run by chef patron Michel Roux Jnr. Le Gavroche was the first restaurant in the UK to be awarded a Michelin star in 1974, and chefs who have worked in its kitchens include Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. Signature dishes include Soufflé Suisse, Le Caneton Gavroche and Omelette Rothschild.
Another popular two-star restaurant is Copenhagen’s Noma, which is frequently ranked among the world’s best restaurants despite lacking the third star. Founded by chef René Redzepi and culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer, Noma is known for its reinterpretation of Nordic cuisine. Famous dishes include “The Chicken and the Egg,” which is cooked by the diners themselves.
Three Michelin stars
“Outstanding cuisine, worth the trip,” according to the Michelin Guide. Three stars are awarded only to the best restaurants, with only 137 restaurants in the world currently achieving this highest of all grades.
Three-star restaurants offer the pinnacle of gastronomy and are run by chefs recognized worldwide for their contributions to the culinary arts. These restaurants are as good as it gets, offering a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, and are always in high demand.
All three-star restaurants are remarkable in their own way. Still, the longest restaurant that has held this distinction is Les Prés d’Eugénie, which was first awarded three stars in 1977, and has been creating world-class cuisine ever since. Les Prés d’Eugénie is owned by chef patron Michel Guérard, one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, and his wife Christine, and is part of a spa complex in the small French town of Eugénie-Les-Bains. Guérard is one of France’s best-known chefs. His signature dishes include Czarina Egg with Caviar, Soft Pillow of Morels and Wild Mushrooms, and Lightly Smoked Fireplace Lobster.