The first Michelin guide was published by the Michelin brothers, creator of the removable pneumatic tire, in 1900. The first guide was intended to be a survival guide for motorists driving primitive machinery that frequently broke down and consisted of technical and geographic information, including hotels (but no restaurants). The guide was their way of encouraging motorists to wear out as much rubber as possible by extending their travels throughout France.
In 1920, cars became more reliable and pneumatic tires were no longer the novelty. The Michelin brothers decided to make three changes to the guide: a) they included restaurants,
b) they decided to sell the guide in bookstores (rather than giving it away), and c) and they decided to no longer accept advertising.
In order to help motorists know what to expect at the restaurants listed in the guide, the brothers created the Michelin star ratings in 1926. The Michelin stars are stylized rosettes that are called “macaroons” by the pros of the industry and serve as the gold medals of kitchen Olympics. They are awarded, confirmed, or withdrawn every year.
The Michelin inspector’s approach to a restaurant is the same as that of a normal customer. When he/she makes the reservation, their name doesn’t ring any bells in the kitchen. Even France’s highly tuned network of gossip among chefs hasn’t yet managed to identify Michelin inspectors.
The Michelin office is set back from the street in Paris, on the de Breteuil, in a functional and unremarkable building that is guarded by security.
The Michelin Guide requires that its inspectors maintain strict anonymity. The inspector role is a full time, long term, salaried career. Inspectors usually have 8-10 years of experience working in the hotel or restaurant business before joining Michelin. They undergo a two-year training period prior to conducting independent inspections.
When hiring inspectors, Michelin looks for discretion, both in manner and appearance. They look for Mr. Everyman.
There are other food guides. But none of them can match the Michelin recipe of impartiality, scope, professional attention to detail, and accuracy. In fact, the town maps in the 1939 guide were so accurate they were used by the Allied forces in 1944 during the liberation of France.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.