The Michelin Star is an absolute honour for any chef and any restaurant to receive. The Michelin Star is obviously the defining moment for any chef’s career and the restaurant’s journey. It helps the chef to climb the higher echelons of the F&B industry and helps the restaurant to magnificently cement its reputation in the business by being called as a Michelin Star restaurant. Dear foodie this concept maybe almost 100 years old, yet it was made famous and truly global by one show ‘Masterchef’. Do you agree? At least I was not aware about a Michelin Star till Vikas Khanna appeared on the Indian version of the show in season 2.
- History of Michelin Star Concept
- Michelin Stars the ratings begin
- Michelin Star Criteria for judgment
- Michelin Stars and what they mean for Michelin Restaurants
- Who decides the Michelin Star listings?
- Some other Lesser Known facts and Myths about Michelin Stars
- Bib Gourmands and other Michelin Symbols from the guide
- The Chefs who are Michelin Star legends
- The Michelin Star Restaurant Experience just for you
- Responsibilities that come with a Michelin Star
An award which is equivalent to Nobel Prize, Oscars, Pulitzer, FIFA World Cup, ICC World-cup and Grammy when it comes to food. Did you get the emotion I tried to convey? Have you ever wondered, what this Michelin Star concept is? I recently did. Hence, I thought let me explore it and take you along to know more about this coveted honour. Are you ready? Yes??? No??? I can’t hear a No, I have a birth defect. So I will take it as a yes. Let’s start without wasting time.
History of Michelin Star Concept
Maybe some Americans know it and most of the Europeans know it, but I can bet that only a few Asians know this. Michelin is a French tyre manufacturing company, yes you read that right. So what does a tire manufacturing company has anything to do with a culinary award? Is this your question too? If yes, then I got all the answers for you. You just keep reading.
In the year 1900, there were fewer than 3000 cars across France, I do not know the source of these figures, but Wikipedia and the Michelin guide’s official website says so. 3000 cars is a very negligible number when you come to know that till March 2019, Mumbai alone had 10.2 lacs Private cars. Back in 1900s it meant a huge untapped potential for the tyre manufacturer.
To counter this, they had a genius marketing strategy. They released a ‘Michelin Guide’ in the same year which consisted of all information related to motorists. It included maps, tyre repair and replacement manual, car mechanics listing and hotels to explore. This guide aimed at encouraging the car owners to drive often and drive longer. So that the tyres could be burnt out faster. More the travel, more the demand of the tyres. Isn’t it a master plan? Slowly they started publishing the guides in other European countries in their respective local languages. These guides were so popular and accurate that the French Military relied on the maps in the World War-II.
Michelin Stars the ratings begin
It was their Idea to tweak the original guide and add a little bit of details about the restaurants. The categorization was included. New listings were in place. The advertisements were removed and by this time the guide was no longer freely distributed. The guide was published in almost 7 European and few African countries which and was growing in popularity due to the restaurant section. This was the main reason that the Michelin started hiring anonymous food inspectors to review a restaurant on basis of the food served.
In 1926 the first Michelin Stars were awarded to few fine dine establishments in France. This tradition continued till 1931, when the new system was introduced and its reputation spread across few European countries. It had 0, 1, 2 and 3 stars. I know you were not aware of this. Or were you aware?
This rating system is now spread across 30+ countries and 4 continents. So there is a lot of potential market to be covered.
Michelin Star Criteria for judgment
This was in the year 1936 that the criteria was made public. So that their ratings can be trusted. Too much of judging secrecy hampers the trust factor. So they decided to reveal what it takes to earn a Michelin star and become an elite Michelin Star Restaurant.
- Using Quality Products
As expected, quality is a strong criteria. The food should be prepared from good quality ingredients. This doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive always. Most of the chefs prefer local but fresh produce. The source of ingredients should be sustainable in nature. After all the basic things are taken care of this criteria is ticked to have matched the expectations. The simplest criteria out of the total 5 listed.
- Mastery of Flavor and Cooking Techniques
This criteria reflects the skills profile of the chef and the team. How they use flavors into various courses. The menu should be versatile and not just focused on luxury. Each dish should have that perfect texture as expected. These things are mastered over the years of hard work and dedication. This certainly reflects in the dishes prepared.
- Personality of the Chef in the Cuisine
A tricky criteria to be honest. This one is indicative of how the chef expresses his creativity to the foodies. How the dishes served and presented are interpreted by the diners. At times it becomes difficult to express within the boundaries of professionalism. Yet the ones who manage to achieve this are the one who end up with a Michelin Star.
- Harmony of the Flavours
This criteria is all about balancing flavours across the menu. A single flavour should not overpower a certain dish. All the ingredients used should be found on the palate of the diner. This is what I could interpret. Do you have an opinion on this? Please let me know in the comments below.
- Consistency of the Food
Without a doubt, this should be on the list. You can’t expect the same dish to taste differently on different days or even different tables on the same day. The taste and flavour profile should be consistent. This criteria is important in awarding a star and is much more in focus while taking away a star.
Michelin Stars and what they mean for Michelin Restaurants
It takes a lot to earn even a single Michelin Star, just imagine how much it goes in terms of efforts when a restaurant is awarded more than one. The stars do not just represent food, they represent the emotions that go behind the servings. So far you must have seen how each dish is decorated for best presentation. Like it is telling you a story.
One Michelin Star: This honour indicates that it is “High quality cooking, worth a stop!”. Which can be inferred like, if you come across this restaurant while traveling then you can stop by to have a meal.
Two Michelin Stars: This honour says “Excellent cooking, worth a detour!”. Which means, you can really change your route to accommodate this place in your travel plans. The quailty of food served is excellent.
Three Michelin Stars: This honour makes a huge statement “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey!”. This can be read as, you can pack your bags from wherever you are and head out to this restaurant. This is once in a lifetime experience that you must have.
I hope your basics about Michelin stars is now clear. Don’t you want to know who is responsible in deciding whom to included in the list and whom to exclude? What it takes to finalize the list of restaurant worth of becoming a Michelin star restaurants? Let’s discuss more.
Who decides the Michelin Star listings?
This critical task, is performed by the Michelin inspectors. Who are appointed anonymously by the Michelin company. If you want to become one, then you will need a very strong experience in either hotel industry or the F&B industry. Then you will need to apply on their official website in a hope to get shortlisted. Once shortlisted, you face a series of interviews and tasting sessions before you brag the job. The on job training is another 6 months of rigorous work. You can read the interview of the chef for more details here.
The Michelin inspectors are totally anonymous and do not identify themselves at any restaurant. This is done in order to avail the same service that the place offers to everyone. This avoids a special treatment which might lead to a biased judgment.
The inspectors are working with Michelin guide with total independence. They are not associated with any other organisations and pay for their own meals. So they can independently put forward their honest reviews.
As discussed earlier, each inspector is having a huge experience which gives them a good expertise on judging the food by its taste. So the ratings are indicative of how experts are at work behind the final results.
It is a teamwork and not the task of a single inspector. Few inspectors visit each establishment over a period of time and then discuss the reviews in their annual star meeting to finalize on results. This ensures reliability for the final verdict.
The inspectors are passionate about their work. Without the right passion, nobody can work dedicatedly for any cause. So each review has been written with integrity and deep knowledge.
Any restaurant is eligible to be considered on the basis of quality. The list of restaurants is well-researched by the Michelin team before the inspectors visit the places.
The best way to work anonymously is by behaving normally like other patrons. Since taking photographs have become so common these days that, the identity of the inspectors is easily masked. Imagine doing this task before the digital age arrived. Remembering the details of what you ate and how it tasted. Surely a tough thing to do.
Some other Lesser Known facts and Myths about Michelin Stars
Have you ever wondered who gets to keep the Michelin Star? Is it the Chef whose hard work earns it or is it the restaurant whose grandeur keeps it? Any guesses? First of all the Michelin star is not a physical entity in reality. It is a concept of listing qualified restaurants in the Michelin Guide. This guide has symbols which represent different meanings with respect to the places covered.
Now the important revelation, the restaurant keeps the star rating and it is non-transferable. For example, if a restaurant receives a Michelin star in Mumbai (a dream though) and then opens a franchise in Bengaluru then the newly opened restaurant won’t have the star status. Similarly the chef cannot have the star. If a chef was working with that Michelin star restaurant of Mumbai and later decides to work for some other restaurant then he cannot take the star with him. This was as simple as it can get.
The reason that a chef doesn’t gets to keep a star is simply because, he is not single handedly responsible for winning it. His team makes this possible. So the place who pays this team is honoured to keep the star status. So now what are your thoughts on celebrity chefs who are so called Michelin star chefs??? Please do not denounce them so soon, a chef is always the heart of any culinary operation and nothing could be taken away from them.
There is a myth which says that Michelin Star is always about fine dining and fancy restaurants. It is not true. In 2016, two Singapore based hawkers received a star each by meeting all the 5 qualifying criteria. ‘Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle’ in Crawford Lane, as well as Chinatown Food Complex’s ‘Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle’. Are you surprised after knowing this? I was of course surprised.
Another myth is that the ambience and comfort is also a hidden parameter in awarding a star. The fact is, the inspections only consider taste while judging the food served. To judge the ambience and comfort, the Michelin guide separately awards ‘covers’ represented by a fork and spoon symbol. This symbolizes comfort and quality of the places. You can see the hierarchy in the picture below.
Bib Gourmands and other Michelin Symbols from the guide
This says enough about the symbol which is the company’s official mascot licking his lips. This symbol is marked in front of a restaurant which serves a good three course meal (starter, main course and dessert) under an affordable price range. The upper limit for the costing is decided as per the region and local economy of that place. This was introduced in 1955 and since then most of the restaurants have tried to improve their food game to at least get this title.
Then there are other symbols in accordance with the local influence. Such as the Tapas bars in Spain has a ‘toothpick and wine’, the London pubs have ‘beer mug’, the street food stalls have a ‘cart’. For wines, sakes and cocktails the symbols are grapes, sake bottle and a cocktail glass respectively. These symbols reflect the best of quality served by those places.
Apart from these there are symbols for a great view offered, a place with terrace dining, a simple shop with good food and a counter dining. These all are attempts to encourage the establishments to improve the experience they provide to their guests. Which symbol you liked?
The Chefs who are Michelin Star legends
Earning that one Michelin star, takes so many years of perseverance and dedication. You have got to respect the geniuses who have won more than 1 Michelin star till date. Even if the restaurant keeps the stars, the chefs carry the legacy of the Michelin stars they earned. Can you guess what is the world record? 5 stars earned! 7 stars earned! Or 10 stars earned?
Here I very respectfully introduce to you the ‘chef of the Century’ with a whopping 31 stars to his name, late Mr. Joël Robuchon. This is a feat I cannot even imagine. If you are a cricket fan then this is someone like Sir Don Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar of the culinary field. The reason being, the second best chef has 21 stars to his name. Mr. Robuchon was also the mentor of Chef Gordon Ramsay. He sadly passed away in 2018.
Mr. Ducasse has 21 stars to his name and a record of owning 3 starred Michelin Restaurants across 3 different cities at one time. He is a perfectionist when it comes to culinary operations. He picks each and every thing for his restaurant on his own. The only chef who had his food sent to the space in 2015 which he defined as ‘conquering the final frontier (of cooking)’.
Without a doubt Mr. Ramsay is the most famous chef in the world. This maybe due to a larger English speaking audience who could connect with him on screen. A Scottish born man defining British cuisine has 16 Michelin stars to his name. His London based ‘Restaurant Gordon Ramsay’ has held 3 Michelin stars since 2001, which is a record in itself.
Mr. Gagnaire was just 26 years of age when he received his first Michelin star. Till date he has collected 14 due to his fusion cuisine and dedication towards it. His famous Paris restaurant ‘Rue Balzac’ in Paris has held a 3 Michelin star status for more than 2 decades now.
With 12 Michelin stars Mr. Berasategui is in the top 5 list. He won his first Michelin star at just 25. Just a funny question, what is your age? He is the one who has put the traditional Basque cuisine on a the world map with his efforts.
Maybe the only chef in the world to have a culinary patent to his name for technique of extractions. This process allows the concentration and perfection of flavours, providing them with texture, a long finish and minerals profile. He has 10 Michelin stars to his name.
The only female chef on the list, and someone who did not have any formal training, She has 8 Michelin stars to her name. Taking over her family run business in 1997 after her father passsed away. She has graciously earned a reputation in the culinary world.
There are five chefs who have 7 Michelin stars, viz. Thomas keller, Carme Ruscalleda, Yoshihiro Murata, Seiji Yamamoto and Andreas Caminada. Then we have two chefs with 6 Michelin stars, viz. Heston Blumenthal and Masahiro Yoshitake. Finally four chefs share rank with 5 Michelin Stars, viz. Heinz Beck, Jordi Cruz, Paco Perez and Quique Dacosta. You can read about them here.
The Michelin Star Restaurant Experience just for you
Hello again, if you are still with me then here is a best part which I write only for you. Reading surely has it’s rewards. Let me take you on a visual treat. Being modest, I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to dine at a Michelin star restaurant. But I hope that you get this opportunity very soon. From what I have heard and seen, I can tell you that it is festival of flavours for your taste buds.
The courses served are not just rich in the taste and flavours, but they are rich in visuals. I am sure you must have seen the presentation that goes in each dish. The style of serving which is simply like the best symphony that a musician plays. The plates, the glasses, the bowls all matched with the theme of each dish served. The ingredients used are of finest qualities and all efforts pointing towards perfection.
Dining in a Michelin star restaurant is an experience you will cherish throughout your life. Even though it is all about food, a lot of things matter other than food. Like the hospitality, the ambience, the comfort, the staff behavior. Everything is set up in way that it makes you feel royal for that one day. So without wasting further time, here is a video which covers a multi-course feast served in ‘Geranium’ from Copenhagen. Watch it and have funnn….!
Responsibilities that come with a Michelin Star
Once the honour is received, it definitely changes fortunes of the chef and the restaurant both. From historical data, it is evident that once a restaurant receives a Michelin star the prices go up by 10 or 20 times. Along with fortunes, comes a pressure of maintaining the quality and service. The Michelin Guide reserves all the rights to strip the Michelin star from any establishment if there is a drop in quality, service or consistency.
In the past there have been incidents, where chefs have tried to return the Star status to stay clear from the hype and continue doing what they do the best but without any added pressure. When a restaurant loses a star, the revenue falls drastically and hence maintaining a Michelin star is far greater task than receiving it. Many chefs lose their sleep over the concerns of their stars being taken away.
In an interview published on 11th February 2020 the public face of Michelin Inspectors Mr. Gwendal Poullennec revealed that the team comprises of inspectors from 15 nationalities. They speak more than 25 languages combined. Their research team tracks the chef whom they will be reviewing. This procedure creates a lot of stress for any chef who already has a Michelin star. The inspection visits are spanned across 18 months with multiple food inspectors frequently visiting the place anonymously.
All Michelin stars do tell a story. Each story highlights the food and the satisfaction of the guests. A double edged sword is what I would still call it. It gives you everything in life as a chef, but if you can’t manage it then it takes a lot away. The stories do not tell you that to achieve this, the chefs and their team has not slept for days. They often work for 18 hours a day without any complaint. Only passion can drive you to achieve such excellence and dedication to the craft.
I hope soon enough, you get a chance to visit a Michelin star restaurant to experience the luxury of the culinary craft. If you do get chance then please meet the chef & team to thank them for the experience they provided you. Maybe more than a Michelin star, your kind words will keep them motivated to handle the stress and work harder.
This is it from me today. I hope this post was a visual treat for your eyes. Thanks to all the legends of the cooking world. Please please please share it with your friends, whatsapp groups and social media accounts. Let everyone know what is the hype behind the most coveted culinary honour, that we call a ‘Michelin Star’. If you are new to this blog then you can read more such blog posts here. With this your foodie_khiladi signs off for the day. See you soon in the next blog till then take care and keeps smiling. Below are the social share buttons for all social media platforms.