A Fairly Short History of the Michelin Guide

In 1900, there weren't many cars driving around France. The Michelin brothers, producers and purveyors of car tires decided that to boost the demand for cars - and their tires. They would publish a free guide for motorists they called the Michelin Guide. It provides information including maps, repair instructions, and hotels. In 1926, the brothers' guide began to award a star for fine dining. By 1931 they developed the ranking system of 1-3 stars. And as the popularity of the restaurant section grew, the brothers hired an anonymous team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants. Guides are available for 23 countries across the globe to help aid in the foodie journey.

What does the star rating mean?

The famed three-star rating was introduced in 1931. The criterion was announced in 1936:

  • One star means "very good cooking in its category."
  • Two stars mean "excellent cooking, worth a detour."
  • Three stars mean "exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special trip."


What is the Bib Gourmand?

Since many starred restaurants do tend to be expensive, the separate Bib Gourmand category was introduced in 1955. Bib is the nickname of the company's Michelin Man corporate logo named Bibendum. The Bib Gourmand category highlights restaurants that offer "exceptional good food at moderate prices."


What is the most affordable Michelin star eatery?

Being expensive doesn't necessarily make you the best, even though Michelin stars typically are given to more expensive restaurants. A Michelin star was awarded to Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in Singapore, where you can get one of their award-winning noodle bowls for only $1.50!


Why are Michelin stars important?

When it comes to judging quality, it is believed that restaurant goers place more trust in Michelin stars than other rating systems. And this system remains one of the ultimate accolades for a chef.


What do chefs really think about Michelin ratings?

The feelings of chefs regarding the Michelin ratings vary. To some chefs, it is utter nonsense. Some chefs don't even want the stars and have gone so far as to return them as they feel the stars end up inhibiting their ability to be innovative. But to some chefs, receiving Michelin stars is the equivalent of an actor winning an Oscar. This sense of pride and recognition can become a big boost for the chef's career and business. Though the stress and obsession that comes with this industry, in general, can be a lot to handle. Tragically in 2003, this was seen when famous French chef Bernard Loiseau killed himself amid speculation that the Michelin guide was going to be dropping his restaurant from three stars to only two.

The Fifty Fathoms Tourbillon in action

How are restaurants judged for Michelin stars?

The exact star scoring system used by Michelin is a closely guarded secret. According to Michelin, stars reflect "what's on the plate and only what's on the plate." There are anonymous Michelin inspectors who visit premises once every 18 months, sometimes more if the restaurant is being considered for more or fewer stars than its current rating. After every meal, the inspector uses criteria to write a report evaluating the culinary experience.


What are the criteria used for awarding stars?

The five criteria used are:

  • The quality of ingredients
  • The skill in their preparation and the combination of flavors
  • The level of creativity
  • The value for the money
  • The consistency of culinary standards

Decor and service do not affect star ratings.


How many Michelin Inspectors are there?

There are only about 80-100 Michelin inspectors worldwide who cover 23 countries.


What is it like to be a Michelin Inspector?

Michelin inspectors are completely anonymous and are told not to tell anyone but their spouse what they do for a living, not even their parents. Michelin inspectors are on the road for three out of every four weeks and stay in a different hotel each night while traveling. They eat lunch and dinner out every day and end up visiting about 240 restaurants in a year. Michelin picks up the tab for all that. Oh, and their inspectors have an excellent health plan that allows for regular check ups and cholesterol tests every six months. Great idea with all that gorgeous food!


How does the Michelin guide pick restaurants to rate?

Michelin inspectors have an impeccable sense of taste and clear ideas of what is deserving to be in the guide. On a practical level, to have an inspector visit and review a restaurant, the restaurant must be located in one of the areas that have a published guide. The restaurant should also have already received positive attention from local and national reviewers, bloggers, foodies, and news. Michelin also says that they do take into account the thousands of letters and emails from readers they receive suggesting restaurants. It is also advisable that the chef or restaurant looking to be rated has not spoken poorly in the press or public about restaurant critics or Michelin in the past, as Michelin does not want to look like it is trying to appease anyone.


Who are some notable Michelin star restaurants?

Some of the current famous Michelin starred restaurants include Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London which is owned by the reality TV star and world-class chef it is named for. This restaurant boasts food so fresh its dishes are prepared right in front of diners who can watch the art and science of their food creation in awe. The Fat Duck in a renovated cottage in Berkshire, England features such awe inspiring dishes as an Alice in Wonderland-inspired mock turtle soup which includes an edible watch coated in gold leaf as well as their signature bacon-and-egg ice cream. Also, notable restaurants are Esaki in Japan, Osteria Francescana in Italy, and Alinea in Chicago which is on the cutting edge of the molecular gastronomy movement with menu selections including an edible balloon made from a dehydrated apple.


Who are currently the world's most decorated Michelin star chefs?

Joel Robuchon, "Chef of the Century" and pioneer of the post-nouvelle cuisine era, is the chef with the most Michelin starred restaurants. He has restaurants all over the world in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, and Japan which have received stars giving him a total of 32 stars. He was also the mentor of Gordon Ramsay. The second most decorated chef is Alain Ducasse who, in 1998, became the first chef ever to earn six Michelin stars. Known for his world class French cuisine, he has five restaurants across the world and now has a total of 18 stars.  Ducasse's award winning cuisine even was sent up into the stars in the sky to feed astronauts aboard the International Space Station in 2015.


Which cities have the most Michelin stars?

In case you want to plan your next vacation around eating your way through the stars of excellent cuisine, you should head to Japan which, as a country, holds the most for restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. The other cities in the world with the most Michelin stars are:

  • Paris, France
  • New York City, USA
  • Hong Kong, China


Have there been any scandals involving the Michelin guide?

The stars don't always align. There have been a couple of incidents involving stars being awarded to restaurants that have already closed. And just this year, in 2017, a cafe in France was accidentally given a star because it was confused with a restaurant by the same name in another part of France. Also, it is not uncommon for restaurants to ask for stars to be revoked as they feel it creates undesirable expectations or pressure for them. And as with any competition, there are rumors and allegations of favoritism, specifically for French cuisine.

Charlie, Heywise Staff

Article WriterCharlie, Heywise Staff

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