Michelin chefs are chefs who work at restaurants that have received a star rating from inspectors of the Michelin Guide, a restaurant and hotel guide. The first Michelin Guide was published in France in 1900 with the goal of making travels easier for motorists by helping them find quality restaurants and hotels. Today, there are 25 Michelin Guides covering 23 countries and over 45,000 restaurants and hotels.
Contrary to popular belief, chefs cannot receive a Michelin star rating; only restaurants can. Nevertheless, a chef’s work ethic, creativity, and skill are fundamental to a restaurant’s ability to earn a Michelin rating. Chefs who work at restaurants that have received Michelin ratings of one to three stars are commonly referred to as Michelin chefs.
Michelin chefs are highly regarded because the Michelin star rating is the only accurate, impartial assessment of restaurants that exists. Michelin’s inspectors are anonymous, trained experts who write detailed reports about restaurants after evaluating them based on a wide range of criteria. On the other hand, other restaurant rating systems, such as the Zagat Survey, are based on patrons’ opinions and not on the unbiased opinions of anonymous inspectors.
To ensure that the reviews are current, restaurants with Michelin chefs are revisited by inspectors several times per year. Furthermore, Michelin has gone great lengths to preserve the anonymity of their inspectors, who aren’t even allowed to tell their parents about their line of work to prevent their identities from being revealed. Restaurants must be of outstanding quality in order to earn a Michelin star rating, but some critics argue that the Michelin rating system is biased in favor of French cuisine and formal dining establishments.
Michelin awards ratings of one to three stars. This is what the ratings signify:
One Star. Very good cuisine in its category.
Two Stars. Excellent cuisine. Worth a detour.
Three Stars. Exceptional cuisine. Worth a special journey.
One star Michelin chefs are rare, and Michelin chefs with multiple stars are even rarer. Another rating used by Michelin is “Rising Star,” which is reserved for restaurants that have the potential to qualify for a one star ranking or to earn another star. Since 1955, Michelin has also been using the “Bib Gourmand” rating to acknowledge restaurants that offer good food at moderate prices.
For many chefs, the dream of becoming one of the few Michelin chefs in the world is at the forefront of their career goals. In fact, some chefs embark on an overly-obsessive pursuit to attain a Michelin rating, such as the French Chef Bernard Loiseau, who took his own life in 2003. Furthermore, once a chef earns a Michelin star rating, he must go great lengths to maintain it because losing stars could lead his restaurant to lose business and prestige.
However, the prestige that Michelin chefs have is not the be all and end all of the culinary world. There’s no doubt that Michelin stars are an impressive award, but restaurants are ultimately businesses, so chefs also have to ensure that their restaurants are making enough money. The pressure to attain a Michelin star rating is sometimes so severe that restaurants go out of business in the attempt to attain it.