In the wide, wide world of fine dining, a lot of weight is put into a restaurant’s reputation. If you’re visiting a small, divey restaurant, something like TripAdvisor or Yelp might suffice, as both offer rating systems from those who have perused the menu, eaten the food and experienced the atmosphere.
But if you’re looking for an upscale, top of the line restaurant, those websites might not work. Upscale restaurants carry an upscale price tag and, therefore an upscale base of clientele. Luckily for those of us who enjoy the occasional dining experience that transcends what people consider to be “average” or normal, Michelin Stars exist.
Michelin, the company you may recognize for selling tires for your car or the large, puffy white mascot vaguely reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, also reviews restaurants. In fact, it has for quite some time, as the first of its travel guides debuted around 1900. Since then, Michelin reviews and releases a guide for restaurants that they deem to be worthy of the coveted “Michelin Star,” in periodic installments. In the United States, Michelin releases guides to New York, San Francisco and Chicago.
Why are they So Important?
The stars are awarded on a scale of one to three, one being a good restaurant with a high standard of excellence, three being a superb, almost perfect dining experience. While restaurants are constantly striving for excellence and high ratings across the board, the longstanding Michelin star system has gained national acclaim through the years. And it’s not entirely due to the longevity of the company, but rather the limited number of restaurants that receive the accolade: just 14 restaurants in the United States have received 3-star status as of 2015.
Gordon Ramsay had this to say about the Michelin Star system
“So, you know, if there’s one thing I’ve come to admire with the Michelin is that it’s consistent. It’s a guy who is judging you incognito. We have a lot of guys in this country, and Europe, who are a bit too familiar, too chummy with chefs, and they overindulge – food editors, they’ll know, and tip off the chef. With a Michelin guide, you have no idea when they’ll be in, or when they’ll review you. And that’s why they’re the most feared and respected by chefs.”
Ramsay also focused heavily on the concept of cooking for the customer, not the guide. This idea embodies what it means to be a Michelin star restaurant: you don’t fluff up your dishes or suck up to the reviewer to get more publicity or your name featured in a guide book you cook wonderful, lavish and delicious food because people like eating food, and they should like eating your food.
What Does it Take to Get a Star?
Michelin representatives (there are 80), always anonymous as Ramsay touched on, review a restaurant based on these criteria, and these alone.
- The quality of ingredients
- The skill in their preparation and the combination of flavours
- The level of creativity
- The value for money
- The consistency of culinary standards
A guide to the Michelin stars can be found online here.