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The Michelin star: from motor cars to an award of which all chefs dream

Sunday, 07/12/2015 22:52
Since the Michelin star was born into the culinary industry, it has grown to be considered as equal to the Oscars in the film industry and the Grammy Awards in the music industry.

In the title of the Michelin Handbook published the first time by the Michelin brothers, they wrote, “This handbook was born with a new century and will go to the end of every era” Maybe this sentence was due to the excitement of their new ‘baby’ but surprisingly the Michelin Guidebook and the stars that go with it, became THE award that every chef and restaurant in the world dreams about.

A quiet beginning

In 1900, the French brothers, André and Edourd Michelin published their handbook about French cars. At that time, there were only about 3,000 cars in France. The Handbook was created to accelerate the use of the motor car and of course to enhance the consumption of tires, the product manufactured by the Michelin Company. 

The front cover of the Handbook Michelin published the first time in 1900. Resource: Eatsnowornever

The first handbook had a print run of 35,000 and was completely free. Inside it had information such as maps, addresses of garages and instructions on how to replace a wheel, the location of petrol stations, restaurants and hotels from around France. Nobody could have known that just four years later a Belgium edition would be produced and three years after that it would appear in Algeria, Tunisia. In 1908 the Michelin handbook crossed over the Alps and reached the people of Northern Italy, Switzerland, Bavaria and the Netherlands. When the handbook was 10 years old, it was presented in Germany, Spain and Portugal and in1911, it came to England, North Africa, Southern Italy and Corsica.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the handbook postponed its operation, to start again when the war was finally over. 1920 was a year of major transformation for the Michelin Guide. At that time, André visited a tire manufacturer and saw a Michelin handbook being used to support a wobbly desk. The Michelin brothers then decided to put a price on the handbook instead of giving for free. This, they felt would make the user respect it more. Some of the content was changed accordingly. The most prominent items became the addresses of restaurants (mainly in Paris) and a decision was made that there would be no advertisements.

Realizing that categorizing restaurants particularly interested their readers, the Michelin brothers decided to hire full-time reviewers, training them to become culinary experts in order to evaluate restaurants. Early in 1926 the Michelin guidebook started evaluating high-end restaurants by granting stars, simply 1 star to begin with. Five years later, the standard 2 and 3 star, were introduced 

A page of the Michelin handbook – English version from 1911. Resource: The Manchester Guardian

During the Second World War, production of the handbook was ceased except for in France. The French handbook in 1939 was only printed for the allies because the maps were very detailed.

In 2005, Michelin published the handbook for the US, focuses on assessing about 500 restaurants, 50 hotels in Manhattan and 5 main areas of New York. Two years later, the Japanese capital Tokyo had a Michelin Guidebook. In 2008 it became available in Hong Kong and Macao. Nowadays the Michelin Guide has 14 different versions for more than 20 countries and is released in more than 90 countries throughout the world. In addition to the list of luxury and expensive restaurant, the Michelin Guide also introduces the Bib Gourmand category for restaurant having average prices; for example a 3-courses menu for less than GB£28.00 (about VND 1 million).

How to receive a Michelin star?

Every year, secret diners from the Michelin Guide will assess and submit a report back to the company. The evaluation is completely confidential. All costs of these meals will be paid by Michelin, who receive no funding or sponsorship.

Michelin Handbook- Japanese version 2015. Source: Japan Times

No one really knows exactly what the evaluation criteria used for a Michelin rating is. However, it can be inferred from the results published in the Guide. A restaurant will only be awarded a star by getting all factors correct. The first priority is the quality of the food which must be fresh, clean, and as little canned or processed food as possible. Dishes themselves in Michelin-starred restaurants have to have great taste, technical precision in cooking, decoration to bring aesthetic value and have their own ‘personality’. Not only that, the entire menu must be coherent, any dish or menu that is unique to the restaurant, will receive higher points.

In former years the Michelin award was influenced by the criteria of classic and comprehensive French cuisine. A Michelin starred restaurant needed to have a menu that had the classic form of appetizer, main dish, dessert and wine. More recently however, the innovation and modernization of menus has become the new trend for evaluation of Michelin standards. Therefore, chef Jiro’s sushi restaurant located at a Tokyo subway station, or Noma restaurant in Denmark, which has just 12 seats of rough wooden furniture, have both received a Michelin star for their unique features.

The menu of the Fat Duck restaurant with 3 Michelin stars in UK. Source: Wikipedia

The decor and ambience of a restaurant together with the prices are also factors that are taken into consideration by the evaluators. Besides tasting the food, they also pay attention to the restaurant décor, furniture, service attitude, music, temperature and the bill. If an establishment doesn’t want to lose its star, it must ensure the quality of each dish.

To meet the high standards of catering, Michelin-starred restaurants recruit only staffs that have graduated from a hospitality faculty. They need to be able to remember wine lists and hundreds of different types of cheese. There are hundreds of pages of regulations to master and they need to be able to introduce recipes, explain the origins of ingredient and prepare the dishes required to be served at the table. Michelin-starred restaurants are often quite strict in recruitment. Normally the short list will have about 10 candidates and after a strict interview process this will come down to two candidates who will be selected for probation. After the probation period only one candidate will receive an offer of a full time position.

The space inside the Il Cappero restaurant, awarded 1 Michelin star in 2015. Source: Swide

Achieving a Michelin star is the dream of any chef. Once chefs and restaurants receive their Michelin Star, table reservations will rise significantly and restaurants will increase rapidly.

However, this doesn’t mean that Michelin starred restaurant won’t be re-evaluated. The secret diners continue to evaluate these restaurants to ensure that they maintain their quality. If there is a drop in standards, restaurants and chefs may see the removal of their Michelin stars. This of course means that business will be adversely affected.

This was the case with Bernard Loiseau chef in 2003 for instance. He heard rumors that La Côte d'Or restaurant was about to lose its 3 Michelin stars. Sadly he completed work in his kitchen, went to his office and shot himself. This was the tragic end of 17 years hard work. Famous chef Gordon Ramsay, judges of TV’s The Masterchef, has said that when a restaurant loses its Michelin star it is like losing a lover.

What does a Michelin star mean?

Since the onset of the Michelin star in the culinary industry it has become to be considered as the Oscars in film industry and the Grammy Awards in the music industry. In 1936 the Michelin Handbook officially announced the specific title of 3 Michelin stars. Whereby:

1 star: A top location for you to stop by, during your journey. One of the better restaurants among other restaurants of the same style/ level

2 stars: A refined restaurant that has great dishes, prepared beautifully and with excellent quality.

3 stars: A restaurant has unique style of cuisine, using first grade ingredients and employing precise cooking techniques in every detail. One that is deserving of diners to make long journeys in order to sample the food

It is very rare for a restaurant to receive 3 Michelin stars. In the Michelin Handbook of 2012, 9000 restaurants and hotels were evaluated in France. Only 26 restaurants were awarded 3 stars.

To be continue…

Followed by Kha Anh
Nguoi do thi/Wikipedia, Food Travel, TripAdvisor

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