What started out as a free resources to the local French community on how to change tires and where to stop along your travels, soon took the world by storm. The Michelin Guide is the highest-honor, prestige award given to restaurant owners around the world for being the best at what they do (1). It’s more than fine dining. It’s more than just great food. It is years of mastering techniques and food science to create works of food art and a once in a lifetime exceptional dining experience.
The Anonymous Michelin Inspector
The history of the Michelin Guide now spans over a century, renowned for its three star system. However, determining how restaurants are categorized is no easy task. Becoming an anonymous Michelin inspector takes years, if not decades, of food experience, hospitality, and heightened taste abilities (2). While the interview and selection process is somewhat mysterious, the Michelin still receive thousands of resumes every year from around the world. From this very large candidate pool, the company will first look for someone with a background in hospitality and refined tasting senses for consideration.
The first thing they do when they identify a potential candidate is they take them to a 1 Star Michelin restaurant with a senior inspector and order the same thing. A table trial sheet is given to them and they must fill out in careful detail their meal experience. The goal is to see if the potential candidate is able to talk about the meal and prove their heightened tasting abilities. From there, if selected, the new inspector will train with a senior inspector anywhere from 12 to 18 months traveling the world, trailing behind, learning the ins and outs of food inspection and scoring before sent out on their own around the world.
The life of a Michelin food inspector, although dreamy, is extremely solitary. Inspectors must eat two meals per day, 5 days a week, adding up to 300 meals per year away from home. They travel the world to find the best of the best, and award each chef appropriately, giving credit to the master chef’s of the world. A variety of inspectors are carefully chosen from different cultures and background for a wide pallet. So, what is the salary of a Michelin starred chef? Click here.
There are certain criteria that Michelin inspectors look for in a dish to decide if the restaurant is worth it, and it may be different than you think. They are not looking at interior design or ambiance. They are not looking for overall aesthetic or experience. They are not looking for any particular cooking style, trend, or current influence. Instead, they are paying attention to the carefully prepared meal in front of them and reporting on what they find (3). There are five main criteria that Michelin inspectors look for:
- The quality of ingredients used. Quality must be first and foremost every time. This is how chef’s can achieve and express themselves through their art form and achieve Michelin recognition.
- Mastery of cooking and flavor techniques and skills. One must be able to display complete competency in all areas of cooking in every dish they create.
- Personality of the chef in the dish. This is an extremely important criterion, and one that takes a general understanding of the chef who created the dish. It is important to see the character and personality of the chef in everything they make.
- Value for money. While it may seem that Michelin restaurants are priced higher, it’s also due to the quality. Many restaurants require top quality ingredients and is reflected in the price per plate.
- Consistency between visits. Between multiple visits of the same restaurant, an inspector must see that they are consistent in quality across every course.
Once inspectors have reviewed restaurants worldwide, the International Director of the Michelin Guide holds what is called a ‘star session’. The stars session meets with inspectors all around the world to go through the table trials and feedback about each restaurant. Through intense, in-depth discussions, they decided unanimously the number of stars a restaurant should receive.
There are three stars in which a restaurant can be rated. 1 star is a good restaurant; worth stopping at if you are on the way or live in the area. There are 2,290 1 star Michelin restaurants in the world. 2 star is excellent, and worth the detour during your journey. There are 414 restaurants in the world with 2 stars. 3 stars, however, is an exceptional dining experience, one worth traveling to that country just to dine at the establishment. There are only 119 3 star restaurants in the world as of 2019.
To read about the $1.50 Michelin starred meal, click here.
If a restaurant is still incredibly, but not quite up to the caliber of a Michelin star, they can still be eligible for a L’Assiette Michelin or Michelin Plate award (4). They are inspected with the same five criteria as restaurants with Michelin stars, and are still considered to be excellent establishments at an affordable price. Many restaurants will start out in the Michelin Guide as a recognized Michelin Plate restaurant. They are noted for their incredible food and rising potential, and do earn their stars in the following years. Many factors determine how and when a restaurant will make the jump from Michelin Plate recognized to earning their first star. Much of this has to do with the talent in the kitchen, ambition to be the best, and the ability to find good resources and suppliers for the highest quality ingredients.
Many restaurants never see the inside pages of the Michelin Guide, much less a star recognition. Restaurants privileged enough to be Michelin Plate recognized is still worth the dining experience as they continue to climb in quality. Inspectors have deemed these restaurants as having excellent food and dining experiences, and still worth visiting if you are looking for an incredible dining experience without the cost of one. Although this is a new addition to the guide made in 2018, it puts many excellent restaurants on the map in terms of quality of food, ingredients, and craft.