Many of the world’s finest restaurants rely more on word-of-mouth recommendations than critics and guides. Despite this, the Michelin Guide is still a symbol of undisputed excellence. The guide was introduced in 1900 when the Michelin tyre company started ranking French restaurants to encourage people to drive more. It quickly grew in popularity, and today each annual ranking is organised by location. However, there are still many culinary-rich countries and cities which are not covered in the guide.
To earn a Michelin star, a restaurant must be within one of the covered regions. It’s important to note that restaurants are awarded Michelin stars, not chefs. There is no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef.
How are Michelin stars awarded?
The Michelin Guide still uses the same methods to assess restaurants as it always has. The guide employs a great number of inspectors, who travel around the world sampling the finest cuisine before awarding its coveted stars. These highly trained inspectors visit hundreds of restaurants every year to be able to identify the very best. The inspectors never identify themselves to a restaurant so that they don’t receive preferential treatment during their visits. If they behaved any differently from other diners, the integrity of the guide would be compromised.
In fact, the inspectors’ anonymity is so important that they are advised not to tell even their closest friends and families what they do. After restaurants have been inspected, the Michelin worldwide team meets to debate the rating of each restaurant that the team has visited. Each establishment is considered carefully by the team until a unanimous decision is reached. The results of these decisions are subsequently published in a country-specific guide. This is how you can be sure that a Singapore Michelin star restaurant, for example, has attained the established standards.
What do Michelin stars mean?
Restaurants can be awarded a maximum of three stars. One star represents “high-quality cooking, worth a stop”; two stars corresponds with “excellent cooking, worth a detour”; and the highest ranking of three stars means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” A restaurant is awarded the prestigious three stars if inspectors feel that they have experienced unique dining experiences that will remain in the memory long after the meal has been digested. Another key criterion in the Michelin star rating is a clear demonstration of a chef’s unique style in their cooking.
The final rating is decided by a collective of inspectors who individually visit restaurants on several occasions to make sure that quality is consistent. The rating is then reassessed based on annual repeat visits over several meals. Although the exact judgement criteria are kept secret to prevent chefs from following a box-ticking exercise, it is understood that inspectors base their decisions on the quality of ingredients, culinary techniques, taste, consistency and value for money.
Perhaps surprisingly, the judges are told to ignore a restaurant’s décor or the service they receive when making their decisions. If the food doesn’t meet the appropriate criteria, it won’t receive any Michelin stars.