Since the first edition of the Michelin guide was published back in 1900 by the Michelin Brothers who owned the Michelin tire company, the inspection process to earning a Michelin star has been kept a closely guarded secret. However, over the years a number of clues have emerged which help to shine a light on how restaurants are awarded Michelin stars.
If you’re wondering why some chefs have so many Michelin stars to their name, we attempt to piece it together below.
What is a Michelin star?
A Michelin star is part of the esteemed restaurant rating system used by the Michelin Guide all over the world. Restaurants featured on the Michelin guide can either be: Plate Michelin, Bib Gourmand, 1 Star Michelin, 2 Stars Michelin, and of course 3 Stars Michelin. Technically, you are only considered to be a Michelin starred restaurant when you have at least one star. The Plate Michelin and Bib Gourmand recognizes brilliant restaurants which are just shy of the coveted Michelin stars. As expected, the more Michelin stars a restaurant have, the more highly rated it is by culinary experts.
History of the Michelin star
If you think the Michelin guide is related to the Michelin tyres, you’re absolutely right! The Michelin in Michelin stars is indeed the same Michelin that make the tyres. In fact, the purpose of the first guide tied in with their tyre making heritage. The tire company began making atlases which included certain restaurants on different routes. At that time, one Michelin star meant the restaurant was worthy of a stop along the way; two stars meant it was worth a detour and three stars that you ought to make a special journey to visit the restaurant.
Michelin claims that the Michelin star means the same thing today, only adjusted for a more mobile society. Yet with the proliferation of restaurants in the 121 years after the very first Michelin star guide, many people think the Michelin star actually possess more value than that – particularly with the degree of prestige the Michelin stars hold in today’s society.
After all, the Michelin guide is now a global one that features a variety of fine dining restaurants and more casual ones at various price points.
The life of a Michelin inspector
Surprisingly to many, there are only around 120 inspectors worldwide with the power to award a Michelin star. This is despite the Michelin guide now operating in 30 different countries. Every inspector is anonymous; if an inspector heard any hint that a restaurant suspected who they were, they would immediately cancel the booking and have a colleague reschedule at a random date in the future. They would then stay away from the region for the next 10 years.
But even if they were rumbled without being aware of it, one inspector told The Independent, it would be unlikely to change much. “[The chef] is not going to be better, and nor is his food, simply because I’m eating at the restaurant. The only thing he could do would be to add some ingredients to my plate, but that’s risky too, since a recipe is made with very precise proportions.”
Due to the small number of Michelin inspectors, each is on the road for three out of every four weeks, staying in a different hotel every night. They eat lunch and dinner every day, sampling around 240 different restaurants every year. Michelin, of course, picks up the inspector’s bill. The perks don’t extend to a plus one, though – their cost would have to be paid independently.
Driving over 18,000 miles every year, dangers on the road are more of a concern to inspectors than the health risks one might perceive to be associated with enjoying such a rich diet. Michelin ensures there are regular health check-ups for inspectors, while they are also entitled to a six-monthly cholesterol check.
How to earn a Michelin star?
The exact scoring systems used by Michelin inspectors to award a Michelin star remains a very closely guarded secret. Yet we do know some aspects of the process. Inspectors visit premises around once every 18 months, unless it is being considered for gaining or losing a Michelin star. In these instances, a Michelin one star restaurant will receive four visits before it can gain its second star. A two star location must be inspected on ten occasions before it can claim the ultimate honour of three stars.
After every meal, the inspector writes a report. It was thought that service, decor and location were each considered as part of the process, but the Michelin guide editor, Rebecca Burr, this year told The Telegraph that “It is all about the food. Absolutely.” Burr suggested that to go from one star to two means displaying “that technical strength, signature dishes, refinement, something that sets them apart.” While the journey from two to three stars is about the “ultimate culinary experience”.
Michelin Star Assessment Criteria
Other than the process involved, a recent seminar that consisted of various experts in the food industry shed light on 5 important factors that international Michelin inspectors adhere to when making their judgements and ratings before conferring a Michelin star.
Using quality ingredients
Regardless of what food constraints we may have, it is without a doubt that top chefs have to be able to source for ingredients of the highest quality. Some chefs even travel to other cities personally to source for their ingredients instead of relying on local suppliers. Produce need not be premium or exotic but they definitely have to be fresh. Featuring ingredients such as truffle and foie gras will not guarantee restaurants earn a star. In fact, restaurants that use simple ingredients can even earn their stars.
Mastery of flavors and cooking techniques
Even seemingly simple ingredients can be elevated with the right flavours and cooking techniques. The combination of flavours, whether it is sweet or sour, bitter or spicy, salty or umami, can come together in various combinations to give the diner an experience of a lifetime. Attention to detail is definitely necessary if restaurants are looking to earn a Michelin star.
Ability to showcase the chef’s personality in the food
Originality is important. More specifically, the chef’s character should be put on a plate. This demonstrates uniqueness and individuality, and helps distinguish the restaurant from other top restaurants.
Value for money
While this criterion appears to be a tricky one with some fine dining restaurants featuring somewhat exorbitant prices, it is more important to provide diners with the best experience. Beyond just the taste of the food, the service as well as the ambience has to be right. By providing diners with a total fine dining experience, the money paid will definitely be worth it.
Consistency of food and dining experience
No bad days are allowed at a Michelin starred restaurant even if the head chef is not around. How good is a restaurant at maintaining high standards? This is precisely why several visits are required before the restaurant can earn a star, and it is not always the same inspector paying the visit. Good food is the result of much effort and it’s not a one-off thing, especially if you’re looking to earn a Michelin star.
The Michelin Guide today
For many, the idea that Michelin award stars based on the food alone is a modern development. The Michelin guide has moved away from traditional perceptions that it rewarded stuffy, French-biased restaurants with tablecloths and stiff waiters where ‘hipster’ hangout spots such as The Clove Club in Shoreditch can earn a Michelin star too. Other modern restaurants with stars include The Soho tapas bar, Barrafina, and Indian curry house, Gymkhana.
Now that you know how restaurants manage to get a Michelin star or two, discover the many Michelin star restaurants in UK for a fine dining experience.