There isn’t many a chef, the world over, who would turn down the coveted award of a Michelin star. But just how did the odd pairing of road tires and fine dining come to be?
The inventor of Michelin tires, the Frenchman Andre Michelin, decided in 1900 that he would produce a factual booklet for the few motorists of the time. They began with a blue cover and were given away for free. These booklets included information on where to find the nearest gas station, places for repair, accommodation and places to eat, across the whole of France.
By 1920 the section on eateries had become so popular that inspectors were employed and a 3 category system was introduced. In 1926 the Michelin star was born, followed by both 2 and 3 stars in the early 1930’s. 1931 saw the introduction of a new red cover and a price tag.
The star ratings were put in place to encourage travel, ultimately to wear down tires and thereby fill Mr. Michelin’s pockets.
3 Stars – “Exceptional cuisine worth a special journey”
2 Stars – “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”
1 Star - “A very good restaurant in its category”
In 1955 a further category was introduced the “Bib Gourmand” – “Good meals at moderate prices”. Strangely, this was named after ‘The Michelin Man’ who is called Bibendum.
Michelins clandestine inspectors roam the world, planning on judging establishments every 18 months on the 5 categories below –
The Quality of the Products
The Mastery of Flavor and Cooking
The ‘Personality’ of the Cuisine
The Value for the Money
The Consistency Between Visits
Now covering 23 countries, the French guide alone has sold over 30 million copies. Tokyo is the city with the most stars in total, a whopping 227 shared amongst 173 restaurants. While Paris has 96 and New York a total of 56 stars. But to put this into perspective Tokyo does have about 160,000 restaurants in the city whereby New York has around 25,000 and Paris a mere 13,000.
Critics of Michelin say that the stars are snobbish and only award formal restaurants specializing in French food. But then over two thirds of Tokyo’s winners serve purely Japanese cuisine. Perhaps those who disparage the accolade of the award of the Michelin star are merely suffering a bad case of ‘sour grapes’. In the extreme, the Michelin stars importance to some can be shown by Chef Bernard Loiseau of La Côte d’Or who on February 24 2003 committed suicide after hearing rumors that Michelin were going to remove one of his restaurant’s three stars.
Photos courtesy of flickr - BellemereBellfill and Jashil