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New York City 2006
First Michelin Red Guide for North America

The Michelin Guide (French: Guide Michelin) is a series of annual guide books published by Michelin for over a dozen countries. The term normally refers to the Michelin Red Guide, the oldest and best-known European hotel and restaurant guide, which awards the Michelin stars. Michelin also publishes Green Guides for travel and tourism, as well as several newer publications such as the Guide Voyageur Pratique (independent travel), Guide Gourmand (good-value eating-places), Guide Escapade (quick breaks) and Guide Coup de Cœur (favorite hotels).

Contents

History

André Michelin published the first edition of the guide to help drivers maintain their cars, find decent lodging, and eat well while touring France. It included addresses of gasoline distributors, garages, tire stockists, and information on fuel prices, changing tires and repairing automobiles.

The guide was distributed freely from 1900 until 1920. The Michelin brothers introduced the charge to establish more credibility after a pile of guides were found propping up a garage workbench. The guide introduced the star in 1926 to note good cooking; two and three stars were added in the early 1930s. The cover of the guide was originally blue, but since 1931 has been red.

As motoring became more widespread, the star system was developed and guides to other countries introduced. Today a series of twelve guides list more than 45,000 hotels and restaurants across Europe, and the guide to France has sold 30 million copies since it was introduced. There are now Red Guides covering France, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium/Luxembourg, Italy, Germany, Spain/Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK/Ireland. The guide covering France is still by far the most thorough. There is also a Red Guide covering the "Main Cities of Europe". The first guides for cities outside of Europe were published in 2006 for New York City and for San Francisco (Hauman).

Guides for Tokyo, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have been released since November 2007. A guide for Hong Kong and Macau was published on 5 December 2008. Michelin today publishes guidebooks in 23 countries and is one of the best-selling restaurant guides in the world.

In 2008, German restaurateur Juliane Caspar was appointed the editor-in-chief position of the French edition of the Guide.[1] She is the first female and non-French national to take over at the French edition.[2]

A guide for Kyoto and Osaka was published on 16 October 2009. Kyoto and Osaka were awarded a total of 106 and 79 stars respectively.

Red and Green Guides

The Michelin Red Guide has historically had many more listings than its rivals, relying on an extensive system of symbols to describe each establishment in as little as two lines. Restaurants rated with a star also listed three specialities. Recently, however, very short summaries (2-3 lines) have been added for many establishments, for example 9,000 in France. These short summaries are written in the language of the country for which it is published, but the symbols are universal. The Red Guide uses anonymous inspections and does not charge for entries.[3] Michelin claims to revisit establishments on average once every eighteen months in order to keep ratings up to date.

There is a Green Guide for each French region and many countries, regions, and cities outside France. Most Green Guides on France are available in several languages. They include background information and an alphabetical section describing points of interest. Like the Red Guide, they use a three-star system for recommending sights: three stars, "worth the trip"; two stars, "worth a detour"; one star, "interesting".

Michelin operates on the principle that only reviews by anonymous, professionally-trained experts can be trusted for accurate assessments of a restaurant's food and service (as opposed, for example, to Zagat, which relies on restaurant patrons for its reviews).

Michelin has gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve the anonymity of its inspectors. Many of the company's top executives have never met an inspector, and inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work, even to their parents (who might be tempted to boast about it).[4 ]

The inspectors write detailed reports which are distilled, at annual "stars meetings", into the ranking of 3 stars, 2 stars, 1 stars, or no stars. Restaurants which Michelin deems unworthy of patronizing are simply not included in the guide.

Michelin stars and other ratings

The guide awards one to three stars to a small number of restaurants of outstanding quality. Stars are awarded sparingly; for instance, in the UK and Ireland 2004 guide, out of 5,500 entries, there are 98 with one star ("a very good restaurant in its category"), 11 with two stars ("excellent cooking, worth a detour"), and only 3 with three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey").

A 3-star Michelin ranking is exceedingly rare. Only 26 3-star restaurants exist in France, and only 81 in the world.[4 ]

Since 1955, the guide has also highlighted restaurants offering "good food at moderate prices", a feature now called "Bib Gourmand". They must have a menu priced at no more than £28 in the case of the UK, or €40 in Ireland. The name comes from Bib (Bibendum), the Michelin Man, Michelin's logo for over a century.

The guide also recognizes many restaurants without any stars or Bib Gourmands. These restaurants are usually rated solely on the scale of "forks and knives". The forks and knives rating is given to all restaurants recognized in the guide, and range from one to five, one fork and knife being "Quite comfortable restaurant" and five being "Luxurious restaurant". If the forks and knives are colored red they designate the restaurant to be "pleasant" as well. The forks and knives scale is designated to speak of the overall comfort and quality of the restaurant, however any listing in the guide requires a relatively high standard of the kitchen as well.

Restaurants, independently of their other ratings in the guide, can also receive a number of other symbols next to their listing.

  • The coins are given to restaurants that serve a menu for a certain price or less. The price depends on the local price-standard. In France the required price is currently €16.50.
  • Interesting view or Magnificent view, designated by a black or red symbol, are given to restaurants that offer dining with a view.
  • The grapes are given to restaurants that serve a somewhat interesting assortment of wine.

Controversy

Because of their reputation the Michelin Guides are subject to increasing amounts of scrutiny and criticism.

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Allegations of lax inspection standards

Pascal Rémy, a veteran France-based Michelin inspector, and also a former Gault Millau employee, wrote a tell-all book in 2004 entitled "L'Inspecteur Se Met a Table" (literally, "The Inspector Sits Down at the Table", but also translatable idiomatically as "The Inspector Spills the Beans").

He described the Michelin inspector's life as lonely, underpaid drudgery, driving around France for weeks on end, dining alone, under intense pressure to file detailed reports on strict deadlines. He claimed the Guide had become lax in its standards. Though Michelin stated its inspectors visited all 4,000 reviewed restaurants in France every 18 months, and all starred restaurants several times a year, Rémy said only about one visit every 3.5 years was possible because there were only 11 inspectors in France when he was hired (rather than the 50 or more hinted by Michelin) and that number had shrunk to 5 by the time he was fired in 2003.

Furthermore, Rémy charged, the Guide played favorites. He specifically named Paul Bocuse, the pioneer of nouvelle cuisine, whose restaurant, l'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, near Lyon, was known, according to Rémy, to have declined considerably in quality, yet continued to hold 3 stars.[5] Michelin denied Rémy's charges, but refused to say how many inspectors it actually employed in France, and offered a rebuttal ("...if it weren't true...customers would write and tell us") to Rémy's claim that certain 3-star chefs were untouchable.[6] Rémy's employment was terminated when he informed Michelin of his plans to publish his book. He brought a court case for unfair dismissal, which was unsuccessful.[7]

Accusations of bias

As the Michelin Guide is published by a French company, some US food critics have claimed that the rating system is biased towards French cuisine, or towards the formality and presentation of the dining experience. When the Michelin Guide released the first edition of the New York City guide, Steven Kurutz of the New York Times noted that Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, a restaurant rated highly by other American guides (the New York Times and Zagat Survey), received a no star-rating from the guide. However, Kurutz also noted that the restaurant was included in the guide and received positive mention for its ambiance, and that two other restaurants owned by Meyer did receive stars. Kurutz also claimed the guide appeared to favour restaurants that "emphasised formality and presentation" rather than a "casual approach to fine dining", for which the Union Square Cafe is famous. He also claimed that over half of the restaurants that received one or two stars "could be considered French".[8]

Further reading

  • Trois étoiles au Michelin: Une histoire de la haute gastronomie française et européenne, by Jean-François Mesplède and Alain Ducasse, ISBN 2-7000-2468-0. Follows the 60-odd chefs who have been awarded three stars.
  • The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, by Rudolph Chelminski, ISBN 9780141021935. The story of Bernard Loiseau.

The November 23, 2009 issue of The New Yorker carries an interview by John Colapinto with an unnamed New York-based Michelin inspector—the only time Michelin has ever allowed one of its inspectors to speak to a journalist on the record.[9]

See also

References

  1. ^ Connolly, Kate (2008-12-17). "German woman appointed as editor of Michelin Guide". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/dec/17/foodanddrink-germany. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  2. ^ Schofield, Hugh (2008-12-20). "German woman edits Michelin guide". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7792384.stm. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  3. ^ "How does an inspector actually inspect an establishment?". michelin.com. http://www.michelin.com/corporate/finances/fr/popup.jsp?lang=FR&newsId=8331. Retrieved September 15, 2006.  
  4. ^ a b The New Yorker, November 23, 2009, p. 44
  5. ^ Rémy, Pascal (2004). L'inspecteur se met à table. Equateur. ISBN 2-84990-006-0.  
  6. ^ The New Yorker, November 23, 2009, p. 47-8
  7. ^ Michelin Red Guide: Cooked Story on "Brand Channel" includes discussion of Pascal Rémy case. Retrieved 11 October 2006
  8. ^ "She's a Belle of the City, but the French Are Blasé". nytimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/13/nyregion/thecity/13cafe.html. Retrieved September 15, 2006.  
  9. ^ "Lunch with M. - Undercover with a Michelin inspector". New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/11/23/091123fa_fact_colapinto. Retrieved January 15, 2010.  

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