Michelin, as people know, is a world famous tyre company, the mascot of which is the huge white fluffy man called Bib. But what does this have to do with food? The Michelin Star is one of the most prestigious ranking systems for food establishments in the world.
Started off as a promotion for people to make road trips to France in the 1926, the very same company that manufactures tyres came up with the idea of this food guide. They anonymously started rating restaurants in a three-star system. The coveted stars became more and more exalted all over the world as the Michelin guide perfected their system of rating over the past century.
The reviewers are supposed to concentrate on the quality, mastery of technique, personality and consistency of the food. They are not to concentrate on interior décor, table setting, or service quality. All in all the stars are just about the food and nothing else.
These Red Michelin Guides are so powerful now that in 2003, French chef Bernard Loiseau allegedly committed suicide when he heard rumours that his restaurant, Côte d’Or, in Burgundy, would be downgraded from three to two Michelin stars.
The stars, though awarded to restaurants, are a matter of pride for chefs. They are like medals of honour and the chefs actually display them with much delight.
These annual guides are available for countries and cities all over the world. India unfortunately still does not have its own red guide. It does have a green one though. A green Michelin guide ranks tourist destinations rather than restaurants.
The ranking system for both guides goes like this:
1 star: Worth Stopping For
2 stars: Worth a Detour
3 Stars: Worth a Trip.
The reason these stars are so coveted is because most mentions in the guide get no stars at all. If you combine all the stars given by the Michelin guides all over the world, the total number is somewhere around 2060. So imagine out of all eateries in 22 countries served by the Michelin guide, only a handful deserve the stars.
If a restaurant has one star it stands among 1800 restaurants. If it has two stars then it is as good as about 200 other restaurants and if it has three stars only about 60 restaurants in all 22 countries combined come close.
The rating process in itself is an elusive thing. The impalpable inspectors go to the same restaurants quite a few times, judging everything quietly and secretly.
Their job is as secretive as that of CIA agents and as such quite a few rumours float around about them. For instance they are not even supposed to tell their families about their job.
“Does the food’s plating stimulate the palate and is the portion size appropriate? Do the aromas of the dish please and entice, or overwhelm and repulse? Even sound comes into play with a delightful crunch of an item. We like flavours to be pronounced or subtle, depending on the circumstance. And there is also the question of value: Is our level of enjoyment relative to the price of our meal?” This is what the website says about how the food is judged.
Unfortunately this group of highly educated individuals haven’t reached India yet. They are still waiting to see how the Green Michelin Guide that was launched in Chennai in March 2013 will do before deciding if launching the red one is of any productive value. Though restaurants in India have still not been ranked, it doesn’t mean that Indian cuisine is lacking.
All over the world, Indian restaurants are busy collecting stars, for example Tamarind and Rasoi in London. Both these establishments, under chefs of Indian origin got one star. There are also Junoon and Tulsi in New York.
Japan as a country has the largest number of starred restaurants. This has sparked a controversy that the guide makers are lenient with Japanese cuisine. It is an extension of the other complaint that most people have about the guide that it is biased towards French cuisine and snooty, high end establishments.
To counteract that the guide also has a ranking table called the Bib Gourmands, restaurants that give value for money. The perfect places to go to get an amazing plate of food at reasonable cost.
The restaurant scene in India is getting classier and more posh every year. Also the term ‘Michelin Star’ has gained popularity along with the profession of a chef thanks to various TV shows.
Hopefully India will have its own Red Guide soon!