Reaching For The Stars: The Michelin Guide
Surprisingly, one of the biggest events in food comes from a quite unexpected source: a tire company. With context provided, it makes much more sense – and has kept the food world on its toes for over 100 years.
The annual announcement of the next year’s Michelin Guide puts itineraries into motion for foodies around the world…. which was the point of starting the guide in the first place. Established by brothers André and Édouard Michelin in 1900, 11 years after starting their tire company, the guide was meant to inspire people to travel – and in the process of doing so, wear down the treads of their Michelin-equipped vehicles.
With a rating system that runs from one to three stars, the explanation is relatively simple. One star equals a very good restaurant in its category. Two stars is excellent cuisine, and worth a detour. Three stars is exceptional cuisine, and worth a special journey. These days, though it’s less about promoting new sets of tires, and more about deeming the leaders of today’s food world, the idea of determining which restaurants are worth traveling for continues to be the key focus.
The Star distinction bestowed by Michelin can elevate a chef, and in turn, a chef’s establishment, to the upper echelons of culinary excellence. But the stars don’t come easily. According to the New York City Department of Health, the city’s five boroughs are home to more than 25,000 restaurants. In those same five boroughs, only six have received three Michelin stars, and ten have received two. The list gets significantly larger for one star, but even then, only a small fraction are worthy of the accomplishment. To say that Michelin’s army of inspectors, who are all anonymous and hail from around the world, have high standards would be an understatement.
The Michelin Guide is not only discerning from one restaurant to another, but from one city to another. For a moment in time, the locales of Los Angeles and Las Vegas were once included in the inspectors list of metropolises to examine, but they’ve since been removed from consideration. San Francisco, not far from either, remains in contention, along with cities like Chicago, London, Tokyo, and of course, Paris – plus several European nations.
With more and more chefs reaching celebrity status, and restaurants becoming true destinations in themselves, there’s never been more attention on the food industry, and the various lists and guides that spell out the ultimate who’s-who. While many consider the Michelin Guide to be the industry standard, others find it to be shortsighted. Noma, René Redzepi’s legendary Copenhagen establishment, reigned at the top spot of San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list from 2010-2012, and again in 2014. Even so, the restaurant has only gained two stars from the inspectors at Michelin. With plans by Redzepi to close Noma this year, we may never know why the third star remained elusive. But as the list evolves, with new additions unseating perennial favorites, we know that our endless pursuit for a memorable meal is guaranteed to continue for years to come.