We often hear or see the phrase ‘Michelin Stars’ on food tv shows or magazines, but do you know what is it about? Does it mean the restaurant serves fantastic food? Does it have anything to do with the Michelin tyres?
Since the holiday season is approaching, I assume many people are searching for a good place to have a nice meal with your family, friends or colleagues. You might come across some restaurants that claim themselves as ‘Michelin Stars’ awarded restaurants and you not sure what that means. So, let’s figure out together what it is!
[Disclaimer: Please be noted that we are not promoting any restaurants mentioned in this blog. This is just an article to share the interesting facts and history about the Michelin Guide.]
Is it related to the tyre company Michelin? *doubtful eyes*
In fact, it does!
It all happened in 1900, when the car tyre manufacturers, Édouard and André Michelin seeking for a way to boost the demand for cars (and car tyres) in France. They came up with a brilliant marketing idea, which was to publish a handy guidebook for French motorists, namely the Michelin Guide.
The brothers printed nearly 35-thousand copies of their first edition of Michelin Guide, which aggregated useful information to motorists, such as maps, tyre repair and replacement guidelines, car mechanics listings, and petrol stations throughout France. Basically, it was the 1900 version of Google + Waze. And guess what! It was distributed to motorists without any charges!
A few years later, as their tyres business expanding, the brothers started to publish the guide in other neighbouring countries like Belgium, followed by Algeria, Tunisia, the Alps and the Rhine, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the British Isles, and the northern Africa. In 1909, they even introduced the English version of the Michelin Guide for France.
However, their efforts were not being appreciated. Can you imagine the anger and disappointment when André Michelin noticed that one of his merchants used copies of the guide to prop up a workbench? The brothers decided to practice the principle of “man only truly respects what he pays for” and started to charge a price for the guide in 1922. Besides, they also started to list restaurants and hotels.
The restaurant section of the guide soon gained popularity. Thus, the brothers recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants anonymously. Finally, in 1926, the guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments! Throughout the years, the Michelin Guide has gained its standing as the acquisition or loss of a star from the guide can have dramatic effects on a restaurant.
“I always saw some Michelin-One-Star restaurants, especially in Hong Kong. Does that mean they are just okay only? How is a Michelin-Five-Stars restaurant look like?”
This is a real question from one of my friends. First things first—Michelin Star Awarding System has nothing to do with the Hotel Rating System. So, there are no five-stars, the maximum a restaurant can attain are three stars. In addition, since the majority of restaurants established in the Michelin Guide receive no stars at all, those that received one star are considered more than excellent.
What are the criteria for the Michelin Star Rankings?
The original intention of the publishing of the guide is to encourage road tripping. Thus, the establishment of restaurants in the guide is to attract people to drive to restaurants that offer good food. The appearance itself of a restaurant in the guide is an honour to it because restaurants that Michelin inspectors deem unworthy of a visit will not be mentioned in the guide at all. On top of that, some of the really good restaurants will be awarded the stars as follows:
One Star: “A very good restaurant in its category”, indicating that it is a good place to stop on your journey as it offers cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard.
Two Stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”, indicating that the cuisine is being crafted skillfully and carefully with an outstanding quality.
Three Stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”, indicating that the dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients that worth a special trip.
Besides the stars, since 1955, Michelin also highlighted restaurants that offer exceptionally good food at reasonable prices as “Bib Gourmand”.
Something worth mentioning, Michelin Guide’s inspectors focus entirely on the quality of the food, they don’t really care about the interior décor, table setting or service quality in awarding stars.
Who are those Michelin inspectors?
Secret. They work in darks, like espionages.
They must be 100 percent committed to the task of eating in restaurants. It’s every day, lunch and dinner, and a lot of travelling. They are required to travel to the assigned restaurants regardless the distance. In addition, they are advised not to disclose their identity as a Michelin inspector to anyone, even to their parents and lovers.
Every year, they will have the annual “stars meetings” on a secret date, at the guide’s various national offices, into the ranking and the elimination of the restaurants.
This image is just for fun.
Does Malaysia have any Michelin-starred restaurants?
In 2011, New York-based Laut became the first Malaysian restaurant that was awarded a star rating in the Michelin New York City guide. Later in 2015, restaurants serving Malaysian cuisines such as Nyonya, New Malaysia and Fatty Crab were recognized as the 2015 Bib Gourmand.
In 2015, the Michelin-starred American-Japanese Chef Jeff Ramsey has opened a luxury restaurant offering Japanese-tapas fusion gastronomical delight, known as BABE in Damansara Height. Of course, the term ‘Michelin-starred Chef’ is somewhat misleading because the stars themselves are awarded to restaurants rather than individual chefs.
Besides that, there is an increasing number of Michelin Star Restaurants that open branches in Kuala Lumpur. Notably the Taiwan-based dim sum restaurant, Din Tai Fung and the Singapore-based Hokkien restaurant, PUTIEN. Both of the restaurants serve consistently fine cuisine with affordable price.
Until today, though there are a lot of rating sites and restaurant guides on the internet, the influence of the Michelin Guide remains powerful. Many restaurants and chef covet the stars. Ironically, the Michelin main business is not F&B.