Approximately one hundred years ago, brothers Edouard and Andre Michelin published a guide for French motorists, in an attempt to increase the demand for both cars and tires. It contained maps, instructions on tire replacement, and the locations of mechanic shops and hotels.
After twenty years, the focus of the Michelin Guide changed, now containing more information specifically about restaurants. The brothers hired people to go to these restaurants and report back on the quality of the establishments, and developed a system designed to rank them.
By the mid-1930’s, this system was streamlined into a simple form, giving from one to three stars to restaurants deemed suitable. One star meant that the restaurant was good for the type of establishment it could be categorized in, such as a diner or a steakhouse. Two stars meant that the restaurant was good enough to merit a small detour, and the food was very good. And three stars meant that the restaurant was excellent, worth making an entire trip solely in order to eat at there.
The first American version of the Michelin Guide was not released until 2005, containing reviews of upwards of five hundred restaurants. By 2013, the Michelin Guide covered more than twenty countries, with fourteen different editions in print. Famously, the Michelin reviewers sent out to inspect restaurants remain completely anonymous. They have no contact with any members of the press, and are encouraged not to tell even their own families about the work they do. They simply write their reports and send them in to the headquarters, all as part of an effort to remain unbiased and fair in their reviews of restaurants.
The term Michelin Star is part of the common vernacular across the world today, synonymous with high quality cuisine. For a restaurant to be given even just one star is an incredible honor, giving the establishment a fine reputation in the culinary world. It can change the way these restaurants do business, turning a restaurant that is struggling financially into a very successful business.
That is not to say however that the Michelin Guide and the ranking system they employ is universally admired. However, in 2004, a former Michelin inspector, Pascal Remy, published a book detailing his experience as an employee of the organization in France. In this book, he expressed the opinion that the standards for the guide had drastically fallen over the years, and explained how there were not enough inspectors employed. As a result, the restaurants included in the guide were not regularly being inspected despite the claims that the Michelin Guide makes about the frequency of these inspections. Furthermore, he stated that the guide was guilty of blatant favoritism, not subjecting well known and popular chefs to the same standards demanded of lesser-known establishments.
He is not the only individual claiming that the Michelin Guide is not as unbiased and fair as they claim to be. Several food critics and authors have claimed that the Michelin guide displays a clear bias towards French cuisine, and that they value presentation and fanciness more than actual quality of the food served.