The Michelin Star and The Power it Holds Over The Restaurant Industry
Ireland has proven itself a little bit of a bastion for Michelin Star-approved cuisine over recent years. Since 1974 - the year that The Michelin Guide began awarding stars to venues across Ireland and the UK - venues across our lovely little island has been awarded over 65 separate Michelin Stars.
The likes of Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, The House, Ichigo Ichie and the Lady Helen Restaurant have been awarded the status of standard bearers for anyone, and everyone, serving food to the patrons of the 32 counties that make up Ireland and Northern Ireland.
However, this got some of the folks in Socio Local thinking; “What exactly is the origin of the Michelin Star?” and “Why does it seem to matter so much?”. Well, we did a deep dive, and the answers to these questions were more fascinating than we could ever have thought.
The Michelin Star & The Michelin Man. A Marriage Made in Heaven.
In 1900, with car sales across France stagnating - there were fewer than 3,000 vehicles on the road - Édouard and André Michelin of Michelin tyres (yes, of Michelin Man fame!) wanted an initiative to increase the demand for cars and, in turn their tyres. With that, the Michelin Guide was born.
Nearly 35,000 copies of this print run were given away for free; looking to provide useful information to motorists, such as maps, tire repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and petrol stations throughout France. In the following decade, restaurants in countries such as Italy, Holland, Tunisia, Spain and Portugal were reviewed and included in the yearly guide.
After restarting publishing after WW1 in 1922, the Michelin brothers decided to charge for the guide. The reasoning behind their decision to do so is said to come from when André Michelin visited a tyre supplier who was using a stack of the Michelin guides to prop up a workbench. Applying the age old rule, "man only truly respects what he pays for", they placed a 750 francs - the equivalent of €114 or £100 - charge on their burgeoning publication.
Publication of the guide was suspended only one more time in its history - on both occasions for World Wars. However, in 1939, after a request by a number of Allied Forces, the 1939 Michelin Guide of France was specifically reprinted and used by troops as it’s maps were the most up to date and best laid out.
The ratings system didn’t take effect until 1931, when a hierarchy of one, two or three stars was established. The criteria for receiving each star was made public a few years later, in 1937:
★ "A very good restaurant in its category"
★★ "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"
"Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"
The first guide to America was only published in 2005. However, it only covered 500 restaurants across the 5 boroughs of New York as well as 50 hotels in Manhattan. Two years later, a guide to Tokyo was published with Honk Kong and Macau following a year later. As of today, the guide takes the form of up to 14 separate editions, covering 25 countries.
Power Over The Restaurant Industry
Each year, the industry holds its proverbial breath as the stars are announced. It is fair to say
that hospitality industry has more riding on an award announcement than just about any
other industry, bar the Oscars.
Careers, businesses and entire reputations rely on the awarding - or lack thereof - of a star. In
2003, the suicide of French Chef, Bernard Loiseau, was linked to the reported decision
to remove one of the three stars from his La Côte d'Or eatery. It had been a life-long ambition of Loiseau to achieve a three star rating for his restaurant and in the months after his death, fellow chef Jacques Lameloise spoke about how Loiseau had confided in him about his desire to achieve and maintain his restaurants perfect rating.
Such was his desire to do so, Lameloise said Chef Bernard would say “If I lose a star, I'll kill myself".
Some chefs have opted to take back the power that the guide has over them. Marco Pier White is one such chef who opted to return his stars as he saw colleagues with "less knowledge than me" being rewarded. Just like that, the esteem in which the award was held vanished in some places.
As reported by a mashed.com’s piece - ‘The untold truth of the Michelin Guide’ - other chefs have opted to either return their stars or refused to be considered due to not wanting the pressure or restrictions that come alongside putting your restaurant forward.
Perhaps it is the way things are moving, but with younger audiences gravitating toward taste, convenience, uniqueness - and an explosion in people seeking out markets, street and farm to table options - perhaps the Michelin Guide will have to change slightly in the coming years. With the hospitality industry changing faster than at any other stage in its history - between software, service and a multitude of other innovations - it’d be a shock if the awarding body didn’t pivot alongside it.