On every Wine-Knows trip we try to include at least one visit to a Michelin star restaurant. Until recently, gourmet diners had to travel abroad to dine in a Michelin star restaurant, however, the much revered Michelin rating system for restaurants is now in the US and has become popular among serious foodies. The system began in France (where else?) and the story goes something like this…
The Michelin guide began in 1900 when the Michelin tire company offered a freebie brochure for its customers who were embarking on a trip. It offered maps and tips on how to fix a tire and where to stop for car problems. As an aside, it also offered information on lodging and restaurants. By the mid-1920’s, the brochure had morphed into a guide that now cost drivers, and included a special designation for restaurants that were exemplary.
By the 1930’s, the guide was a bright red color and it had fine-tuned its restaurant rating system into almost the same system used today: good restaurants were simply listed (it was an honor to be even listed in the guide). Particularly noteworthy restaurants, however, were listed in a hierarchy: one star restaurants were special gourmet stops; two star establishments were even more oou-la-la for foodies; three star restaurants offered la crème de la crème of France’s finest dining.
So what criteria is used by Michelin? No one knows for sure as its rating system and inspectors’ identities are as carefully guarded as the keys to the wine cellar of the Elysee Palace (the home of France’s Presidents). That being said, the following figure somewhere into the equation:
- Quality of tableware (e.g. china, stemware, linens)
- Appointments of dining room (e.g. floral arrangements, draperies, chairs, lighting)
- Quality of food
- Quality of wine list
Michelin guides are now in 20-something countries and often have a “make or break” influence on chefs/restaurants. At least one chef has committed suicide over losing a star…numerous bankruptcies, restaurant closures, and divorces have occurred because of demotions of a star.
Coming to Sicily on the Fall tour? We’ll be dining at La Madia in Licata, a two star Michelin restaurant. The guide (published every year and available in most bookstores for about $35), is also available online at http://www.viamichelin.com/web/Restaurants.