The Best Taste – Global Times

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The Dali restaurant in Paris, France Photo: AFP

French Michelin-star chef Loic Villemin (right) prepares meals in his restaurant's kitchen

French Michelin-starred chef Loic Villemin (right) prepares meals in the kitchen of his restaurant ‘Toya’ in Faulquemont, France, on November 4, 2021. Photo: AFP

France’s prestigious Michelin guide is one of the world’s most influential references for gourmet cuisine, its star ratings are coveted and sometimes disputed.

Over 120 years old

In 1900, the early days of the automobile, French tire manufacturer Michelin released a guide to encourage motorists to take to the streets to boost their business.

The free red guide contained maps, instructions on how to change tires and lists of mechanics and hotels along the route.

The first edition of 35,000 copies was such a success that travel guides for Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Spain followed.

In 2021, in a small revolution, an edition was released for those who prefer to discover France by regional train rather than by car.

Rating in stars

The guide contained restaurant listings dating back to 1920, when fees were charged for publication. It began sending undercover inspectors and introduced its famous star ratings from the early 1930s.

Michelin says it awards up to three stars based on the quality of the ingredients used; mastery of taste and cooking techniques; the personality of the chef in his kitchen; Price-performance ratio; and consistency between visits.

A star means “Quality Cooking, Worth a Stop”; two stars stand for “excellent cuisine that is worth a detour”; and three awards “Excellent cuisine, worth a special trip.”

Of around 20,000 listed international restaurants, only around 130 have received the highest award.

In 2021, the Guide was criticized for maintaining its selection in France despite restaurants being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Competitors had decided to scrap their awards.

Michelin goes global

In 2005, the Michelin guide branched out from Europe with a New York guide, followed by editions for San Francisco, then Las Vegas and Los Angeles in 2007.

It moved to Asia with a Tokyo release in 2008, when 90,000 copies in English and Japanese flew off shelves in 48 hours.

Michelin published its first Shanghai guide in 2016, and today there are versions for several Asian cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

The guide, long criticized for being biased towards formal dining, awarded a star in 2016 to a street food restaurant in Singapore known for a stewed chicken dish.

A famous sushi restaurant in Tokyo where Barack Obama is said to have enjoyed the best sushi of his life closed in 2019 after it stopped taking reservations from the public.

Much pressure

A handful of French restaurateurs have given up their Michelin status because of the stress of being judged by their inspectors.

Swiss celebrity chef Benoit Violier committed suicide in 2016, a day before the Michelin guide was published, although his restaurant retained its three-star rating.

The Guide was first sued in court in 2019, when celebrity chef Marc Veyrat sued him for withdrawing a third star from one of his restaurants and — wrongly, he points out — suggesting that he used cheddar cheese in a souffle.

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