The Michelin Man – Bibendum
The Michelin Guide is a famous travel guide which rates hotels and restaurants. A lot has been written about Michelin Guide and their rating system, what gets rated and what not, how fair or unfair ratings are and so on. Although I can’t explain why, I have always been very interested by everything surrounding the Guide. There is some kind of mystique that surrounds it.
I have heard various opinions ranging from very positive to indifferent and even negative of people who have had experience with Michelin Guide. There’s more than one point of view when looking at what Michelin Guide is. Most probably when you think about Michelin Guide you look at it from the user’s point of view. I will however shed some light on what the Guide means to chefs and professional restaurateurs. Also, what kind of cuisines and restaurants get awarded, in what countries and much more, from behind the curtains of the most popular travel guide in the world.
I personally have always had a great respect for any restaurant that has been awarded with a Michelin star. Because I know that it takes hard work to get noticed and it takes even more to get a Michelin star. I have dinned in few such restaurants and haven’t been disappointed. Yes, prices are high, wine mark-ups are ferocious, yet the overall experience was good or very good, while food was always excellent.
For me, simply put, the Michelin Guide people seem to know what good food and service tastes, looks and feels like. Read on to find out why getting a Michelin star is what most chefs dream of and why it really is the highest accolade in the world of fine cooking.
What is the Michelin Guide?
Michelin Guide France 2010
The Guide is considered by many in restaurant industry to be the ultimate authority on places to eat. They publish annual guide books listing restaurants assessed and reviewed by their inspectors, in 23 countries. The Michelin system awards stars to exceptional restaurants, and gives up to three. The maximum is awarded on an extremely limited basis, thus guaranteeing that three-star restaurants are in fact the finest restaurants in the world. This also means that the vast majority of recommended restaurants have no star at all.
Obtaining and maintaining a Michelin star (or stars) is an on-going process as Michelin re-visits restaurants on a regular basis to assure the worthiness of the cuisine. The award lasts for one year and is only renewed if high standards are maintained. One of the most painful and image shaking experiences is to lose a Michelin star. I am coming back to this question later in the post.
How Restaurants Are Assessed?
The Michelin rating system awards stars for one aspect of a restaurant – the food. Stars are awarded to restaurants offering the finest cooking, regardless of cuisine style. People from Michelin say they reflect only what is on the plate, without taking into consideration interior decoration, service quality or table settings. In other words, one can invest millions in the interior and kitchen and still be miles away from the ultimate accolade, if the food is not impressive. A recent example of this is a canteen in Hong Kong, called Tim Ho Wan (which means “Add Good Luck”). It offers dishes for a little more than a dollar and last year (2009) has become the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.
Coming back to how establishments are assessed, it is always done by anonymous inspectors, who look at five food related criteria: “The quality of the products”; “The mastery of flavor and cooking”; “The “personality” of the cuisine”; “The value for the money” and “The consistency between visits”.
In exceptional cases, a review is accompanied with a star. Thus a Michelin star is one of the most desirable honors in the restaurant business, as very few restaurants are given a star, let alone the ultimate credit of three stars.
Here probably is the place to explain what the stars mean. According to the Michelin Company, a single star indicates the restaurant is considered to be excellent, while two stars suggest that it is “worth a detour,” and three stars indicate “exceptional cuisine, which is worth the journey”.
A 3-star Michelin ranking is exceedingly rare. Just to get you an idea, there are only 26 3-star restaurants in France, and only 81 in the world (as of 2010).
The usual Michelin inspection looks like this: The assessor makes a reservation, visits the restaurant and observes every aspect of the dining experience. After which he or she would leave directly after finishing dessert and paying the bill. The assessor fills out a report, which is made in the form of entries in a classification form, supplied to all Michelin inspectors. He or she would list every ingredient in everything they ate, and the specifics of every preparation. As said earlier, they would rate these according to several criteria, including quality of the products, mastery in the cooking, technical accuracy, balance of flavors, and creativity of the chef. Then the evaluator would fill out the section that deals with setting, comfort, and service, despite Michelin claims that these factors do not influence their judgment.
Although they never disclosed their reviewing criteria, reports consist of observations about the service, the crowd, the décor, the ambience, the wine list, or the sake list—whatever is applicable.
Their explanation is that everything counts: the salt, the glasses, everything about the experience clients have from the second they made the phone call to book the reservation, to when they walked in the door, when the hostess greeted them – or didn’t greet them – to whatever little goodies they have at the end of the meal.
For sophisticated restaurants filling out the reports would take two to three hours. A Chinese restaurant might take an hour.
What countries are covered by Michelin guide?
As of 2010, twenty countries are covered in Europe, two cities in the United States – New York & San Francisco; three cities in Japan – Tokyo, Osaka, Koito, plus two more Asian destinations – Hong Kong and Macao.
A series of twelve guides listing hotels and restaurants across Europe cover France, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium/Luxembourg, Italy, Germany, Spain/Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK/Ireland. The guide covering France is still by far the most thorough.
Some countries for which single-country red guides are not published, may enter the Guide too. The 2010 edition of the “Main Cities of Europe” reviews 1,700 restaurants in 44 major cities, of 20 different European countries:
Austria (Vienna, Salzburg) – Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp) – Czech Republic (Prague) – Denmark (Copenhagen) – Finland (Helsinki) – France (Paris, Lyons, Strasbourg, Toulouse) – Germany (Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart) – Greece (Athens) – Hungary (Budapest) – Ireland (Dublin) – Italy (Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence) – Luxembourg (Luxembourg) – Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) – Norway (Oslo) – Poland (Warsaw, Cracow) – Portugal (Lisbon) – Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia) – Sweden (Stockholm, Gothenburg) – Switzerland (Bern, Geneva, Zurich) – United Kingdom (London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow)
The first guides for cities outside of Europe were published in 2006 for New York City and for San Francisco.
How much Michelin Red Guides cost?
The Michelin red guide Main Cities of Europe 2010 is priced at €23 in France but should be available for around $18 in the USA and £12 in Great Britain. ViaMichelin has developed an iPhone application for the Main Cities of Europe 2010, which is available for €15.
What country has the most Michelin starred restaurants?
France, of course! The Michelin Guide France 2010 has awarded stars to a total of 558 restaurants: 455 one-star restaurants (of which 47 just awarded their first star), 77 two-star restaurants (10 newly promoted) and 26 three-star restaurants (one for the first time).
However, there are 11 three-star restaurants in Tokyo, valuing the Japanese capital over Paris (with 10 three-star restaurants) as the city with the most three-star eateries.
How does getting or losing a star affect business?
Michelin stars are not easy to come by, and we all look at restaurants in a different light once they get these stars. It is the world’s most widely respected culinary guide, but also the most dreaded.
Chefs who hold two or three stars pressure themselves to excel to avoid losing a star. That loss can be catastrophic for restaurants, cutting sales by as much as 50 percent. Ironically, earning Michelin stars does not guarantee profitability, as nearly half of the restaurants with stars are thought to be not profitable.
A common notion is that pizzerias would almost certainly make more money than one-star Michelin restaurant! Moreover, the owner of the pizza outlet probably would not have to work as hard as the Michelin-star chef does. Chefs in Michelin restaurants work incredibly long hours in their kitchens. On average, they work more than one hundred hours per week.
How much is the average investment in a Michelin Restaurant?
A recent survey called “Behind the stars” established that the opening investment averages to 2,350,000 euros, with a range of the investments ranging from 50,000 euros to 20 million euros.
Revenue changes are observed after gaining the third star. On average the restaurant sees an increase in revenue of around 30 percent.
What is the average size of a Michelin restaurant?
Again, the same survey discovers that the average number of seats in the Michelin starred restaurants is fairly small, with an average of sixty-four covers (with a range of twenty-eight to two hundred covers). As expected, the number of employees usually corresponds to the size of the restaurant, with the average establishment employing 46 (with a range of 5 to 130 persons).
What chef has the most Michelin stars?
Joël Robuchon currently reigns the world with 25 Michelin Stars followed by and Alain Ducasse – 18 stars and Gordon Ramsay – 11 stars.
This year (2010) Joël Robuchon became the most Michelin-starred chef on the planet, ever, with an unprecedented total of 25 stars. Not bad for a chef who was supposed to have “retired” in 1996, shortly after his 50th birthday.
His career was built on discipline, chained to various stoves for 36 years until he started to travel for the first time after closing his restaurant in 1996. In 2003, he began opening restaurant after restaurant with the team of trusted chefs and managers he’d worked with previously. Seven years and 12 restaurants later, he has a collection of the world’s most consistently excellent eateries.
Although those numbers might give the impression that Michelin is suddenly giving stars out like sweeties, that’s not the case. Robuchon’s nearest rivals in the star wars, Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay, were leapfrogged in November last year (2009) when he gained nine stars in the space of just over a week with the publication of the company’s new guides to Las Vegas and Tokyo.
Gordon Ramsay, who worked under Robuchon for 10 months in Paris in the early-1990s, says about Robuchon, adding that working in his Paris kitchen was like being in the SAS (Special Air Service is a special forces regiment of the British Army). Many other successful chefs trained under him – Tom Aikens, Michael Caines, Richard Neat.
What does the great man (Joël Robuchon) think of Michelin Guide?
Robuchon is not letting star status go to his head: “Having the most stars doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best chef,” he tells. “You’ve just got to have a lot of restaurants to have a lot of stars.”
When he closed his Robuchon three-star Paris restaurant in 1996 – at the time the most famous restaurant in the world – he became one of Michelin’s fiercest critics. As recently as 2005 he was still giving the guide a good kicking: “As long as Michelin remains stuck in the past, I have no interest in being mentioned in it,” he said. “Their judging standards are behind the times… and I am no longer so sure they are so impartial.”
Aside from wanting to modernise Michelin, his attitude towards the guide must have been tainted by the suicide in 2003 of his friend and fellow French star chef Bernard Loiseau. Loiseau had a bipolar disorder and it was alleged that he shot himself shortly after being marked down in the Gault Millau guide and amid rumours that Michelin was going to remove the third star from his La Côte d’Or restaurant in Burgundy. It later emerged that Michelin had no such plan.
Today Robuchon says: “Michelin is modernising; it had to modernise because the most important thing is what’s on the plate, not whether or not your toilet is gold-plated. Now it is different, but at the time keeping your three stars was the most important thing; every three-star chef in France used to be petrified before the guide came out, and they probably still are. It’s not just you lose a star, it’s that you lose business, money, your livelihood; and the pressure was too much.”
Regardless of whatever anyone think, the Michelin Gide is necessary. I sometimes get tired to eat in terrible restaurants while travelling. You can easily avoid it with the Michelin. Often, there is very little difference in prices between 1 star and some not listed restaurant. The Michelin do not force you to eat in their 3 stars restaurants, prices are indicated and the choice is yours. While no system is perfect, to me it’s one of the greatest French inventions and if the Michelin did not raise so much passion, it would have lost it purpose!
The two brothers Édouard and André Michelin. In 1900, André Michelin published the first Michelin Guide, the purpose of which was to promote tourism by car, thereby supporting his tyre manufacturing operation.
When André Michelin came up with the idea of publishing a guide during the 1900 Paris World Fair, his main objective was to advertise his company’s products and raising customer loyalty. At that time any driving expedition could be cut short by all sorts of mechanical disasters imaginable. Thus the first guides included addresses of gasoline distributors, garages, tire stock lists, and information on fuel prices, changing tires and repairing automobiles. Apart from indicating the garages and which roads were paved, the book intended to help drivers find decent lodging, and eat well while touring France.
Initially provided on a complimentary basis to drivers, by 1920 the Michelin guide, was no longer distributed free of charge. In 1923, a “Restaurants” section was introduced. Though these dining establishments were not yet assessed according to specific gastronomic criteria, as they would later. The guide introduced the star in 1926 to note good cooking; two and three stars were added in the early 1930s. Thus stars were gradually used to indicate each restaurant’s level of quality. As of 1933, Michelin sent undercover “inspectors”to all four corners of France to discover the country’s most refined specialities.
The cover of the guide was originally blue, but since 1931 has been red, since then known as “the Red Guide”.
Browse ot purchase from our collection of Michelin Red Guides