The Nobel Prize. The Academy Awards. The Pulitzer Prize. The Michelin Star.
As one of the most prestigious awards in the culinary world, many top chefs dream of leading a restaurant to Michelin Star status. While there is no such thing as a “Michelin Star Chef,” chefs who do lead a restaurant to earn this designation can tout it on their resumes forever.
While this is a worthwhile goal, it’s no small feat; less than 16,000 restaurants worldwide have earned this elusive award, including fewer than 4,000 in the US. This demonstrates not only how impressive the award is, but also how hard chefs must work to guide a restaurant to a Michelin Star nod.
If you count yourself among these aspiring award-winners, roll up your sleeves, sharpen your knife kit, and get ready to learn how to become a Michelin Star chef.
What Is a Michelin Star?
While the Michelin Guide is now known as a way to recognize top-notch restaurants and hotels, it has a storied history. The Michelin system began awarding fine dining restaurants with its coveted stars in 1926, and it released its three-star rating system in 1931.
Today, the Michelin Guide assesses restaurants in select cities around the world. After being reviewed by anonymous inspectors, the restaurant may receive zero, one, two, or three Michelin stars.
Criteria Evaluated by Michelin Inspectors
- Quality of products
- Mastery of flavor and cooking techniques
- The personality of the chef represented in the dining experience
- Harmony of the flavors
- Consistency between inspectors’ visits
Receiving a Michelin star often garners a restaurant significant media attention and increases reservations and demand. In other words, it can have a big impact on a restaurant’s future success.
Keep in mind that Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants rather than chefs. The operation earns the award and the chef is only one person within that operation. That said, the executive chef plays a major role in a restaurant’s success. When a restaurant receives a Michelin star, the executive chef can – and should – take some of the credit.
How to Become A Michelin Star Chef
While there isn’t one clear path to become a Michelin Star chef, many of these culinary experts have traveled similar trajectories. If you dream of adding a Michelin Star to your list of accomplishments, use the following steps as a guide.
1. Start With Culinary Education
It’s true that culinary school isn’t a definitive requirement to become a chef. However, a formal culinary education can provide you with the skills and experiences that many employers expect. Whether you opt for an online program or in-person classes, you can learn fundamentals like knife skills and food safety both in the kitchen and during lecture.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with several students of Escoffier who have done their externships here at the JW Marriott… Their program is unparalleled in the community in terms of discipline, and also the actual material presented to the students.”*
Jennifer Etzkin, Corner Restaurant, JW Marriott Austin Executive Chef
At Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, you may also form a closer connection to your ingredients during the Farm To Table® Experience and learn how to design menus and manage purchasing.
Not only can you gain new knowledge and experience in culinary school, but you’ll be surrounded by talented peers and Chef Instructors. These people are available if you ever want to bounce around an idea or get a little help mastering a new concept.
2. Practice in a Kitchen
After you’ve obtained a culinary education, it’s time to practice in a working kitchen. But don’t think culinary school and real-world experience have to be separate! Escoffier can help assist you with finding a six-week hands-on industry externship towards the end of your degree or diploma program.
Externships not only give you a chance to practice your skills, but they also allow you to gain experience working with a specific cuisine of interest. Oftentimes, students find that externships are the stepping stone to a career.
“At the end of my externship, my Sous Chef said that if I gave him a few weeks, he could probably get me a job. You have to be patient in small kitchens, and you have to let them know how you feel, too.”*
John Hadala, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate
If you don’t attend culinary school, you can still gain experience by working in a kitchen. Just remember that many employers are more likely to hire candidates with a culinary education.
3. Find a Mentor and Learn From Them
No matter where you are in your culinary journey, you’ll benefit from having a mentor who can inspire and guide you. While attending culinary school and working in a kitchen, you may naturally develop this type of valuable relationship with a Chef Instructor, Executive Chef, Sous Chef, or alumni.
If you don’t have a dedicated mentor, take a deep breath and reach out to a professional you admire. Asking for mentorship doesn’t show that you’re weak. Rather, it illustrates you’re serious about advancing your career. Even if the person isn’t able to guide you throughout your culinary journey, they may be able to refer you to others in their network.
Once you find a mentor, don’t think they’ll wave their magic spatula and make your dreams come true – you’ll still need to put in the work! However, mentors can help you establish concrete goals and hold you accountable when you put in mediocre effort. Remember, this isn’t austere criticism, it’s an encouraging reminder that you can do better.
4. Develop Your Soft Skills
Balancing flavors, mincing onions, operating a sous vide machine… all of these could be required chef skills in a professional kitchen environment. But what about clear communication, organization, and self-awareness? That’s right, chefs also need soft skills!
These skills not only help you develop delicious plates, but they also make you a leader your team can turn to. Even if you conceive of a winning dish and order the finest products, you must be able to manage a team of restaurant employees who can execute the menu day in and day out. Remember, Michelin Star-winning restaurants value consistency as much as flavor.
If anyone can vouch for the importance of leadership, it’s Chef Curtis Duffy, Executive Chef and Owner of Two-Michelin star restaurant Ever. “I’m the face of the restaurant. But behind me is an army of people that I count on. They’re the ones that really make it happen,” says Duffy. “Their relentless work ethic and their push every single day is what gives me the ability to do what I’m doing now. It gives me the ability to grow the brand and to give them the opportunity to grow with me.”
5. Gain Experience at Top Restaurants
As you gain real world experience, it’s time to take the next step to pursue your dreams. Before you guide a restaurant to Michelin Star status, you should learn how these top kitchens operate. By obtaining employment in an award-winning restaurant, you’ll be pushed to refine your skills and develop your identity in the kitchen.
Not only will working in a top restaurant give you exposure to top cuisine, but it might also provide you with access to valuable mentors.
6. Work Your Way Up In the Kitchen
At this point in your journey, you have the education and experience you need to succeed. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop working.
If you aim to be an executive chef, you may need to become a commanding and creative leader as well as a talented cook. So always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn from others, push the boundaries, and step into leadership roles.
Once you become an executive chef in a city that’s visited by Michelin Guide inspectors, all that’s left to do is keep working. With a solid foundation and lots of perseverance, you’re well situated to lead your restaurant to that coveted Michelin Star.
Take the First Step to Become a Michelin Star Chef
If you think becoming a Michelin Star chef sounds like a lot of work, you’re right! However, when you break this dream down into achievable steps, it seems a bit more obtainable.
By attending Auguste Escoffier School of the Culinary Arts, you can explore the fundamentals of navigating a kitchen and working with ingredients. As you hone your skills beside talented Chef Instructors, you could gain the confidence and skills you need for your culinary externship.
“You have to be willing to invest in yourself.”*
Wyl Lima, Austin Culinary Arts graduate and Sous Chef at Temporis, a 2019 Michelin Star restaurant
After graduation, you can expect to work your way up through the kitchen, holding roles such as line cook and sous chef. Remember, you don’t become a chef overnight! With education, passion, and determination in tow, you can be better equipped to stand up to any challenge you face. And if you need help, you can always reach out to your former instructors and classmates.
If you’re interested in taking the first step to becoming a chef of a Michelin Star restaurant, or another type of culinary professional, contact us to learn more about how you can pursue a culinary education at Escoffier.
To learn more about how to start or advance your culinary career, check out these articles:
- The Difference Between a Cook and a Chef
- How to Train as a Chef
- What It Takes to Be an Executive Chef
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.