Ever wondered how the Michelin restaurant rating came to be? We did too, which is why we went out looking for the full story. We bet you would never guess how this 100+ year old organization got its start or how it grew into the fine cuisine scale it has today. Follow along as we take a walk through the Michelin’s memory lane.
Believe it or not, the Michelin rating has been around for almost as long as cars have. Having been invented around 1900 by Andre and Edouard Michelin, it started as a guide for the 300 motorists that were in France at the time. The guide itself was printed to boost demand for cars and, in turn, their tires. On top of eateries, the guide included maps, instructions on how to repair and change tires and a list of hotels, mechanics and gas stations. There were 35,000 copies printed (for 300 motorists) and they were given away for free. In less than a decade as cars became more accessible, there were Michelin guides for every country in Western Europe as well as Northern Africa, Southern Italy and Corsica.
Production on the Michelin guide stopped during World War I but picked up again in 1920. Rumor has it, the brothers started charging for the guide when they visited a mechanics shop and a stack of them was being used to prop up a workbench. After then, the restaurant ratings started to become more specific and advertisements were no longer included. In 1926, the first star ratings started to be used for France’s fine dining establishments. Starting with just one star for the top restaurants, that ranking was altered in 1931 with the introduction of the Michelin three star ratings:
1 Star—A very good restaurant in its category.
2 Stars—Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
3 Stars—Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.
As World War II began, the guide’s production was suspended yet again. However, the allied forces
requested that it start being made again and the 1939 version for France had maps that worked around the invading armies. The effects of the war lingered on Europe, however, so the guide went down to a 2-star rating as the countries still suffered food and supplies shortages.
The first American Michelin guide wasn’t produced until November 2005 and concentrated on the New York area. Between 2007 and 2008, they also added Tokyo, Hong Kong and Macau. According to the website, the guide now covers 23 countries, has 14 editions and is sold in 90 countries.
Because of the vast scope of the United States, the Michelin star is officially only in a handful of cities: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Because of this, no other restaurant in
any other city can say they are Michelin rated. So, if you’re a Boulder culinary school student with big aspirations, those are the cities to go to.
Starting in 1955, the Michelin came up for a rating system for establishments that offer excellent food at moderate prices. The Bib Gourmand covers restaurants that have menu items more realistic for the areas economic standards therefore expanding the scope of the Michelin beyond the fine dining world.
The Michelin Guide Today
Over recent years, many chefs have disputed getting Michelin ratings. Some have even gone so far as to have it removed for various reasons. The most notable restaurants to do so are Casa Julio, Petersham Nurseries Café and ‘t Huis van Lede. Their reasons vary from unfair expectations for diners to the restriction of creativity.
Still, in today’s culinary industry the saying is the Michelin guide is the only one that counts. The guide is especially of notable importance in France as each year its release sparks a media frenzy like that of a major Hollywood award show. Although it’s now 116 years old, the Michelin guide is bigger than ever and growing more every day.