Nearly one hundred and twenty years ago, two brothers devised what is now known as the most fearsome culinary rating system in the world now known as the Michelin star. It didn’t start out that way though. Merely trying to help the people of France locate a place to grab a quick bite or somewhere to hang their hat at night, it was initially created as a directory. These brothers of tire fame (Michelin, perhaps adorning your vehicle out in the driveway now), Edouard and Andre Michelin, had no idea at the time that their little directory would explode into an ultra-competitive ranking system for the world’s most elite restaurants.
The Michelin guide quickly evolved from a simple directory to a foodie bucket list of sorts, ranking each destination with a system of stars (one, two, or three). In doing so, it made the kitchens of beloved restaurants into hyper-competitive places. With the fear of losing stars or being rated poorly, chefs began losing sight of individuality in a desperate quest to be awarded these stars.
On one side of this, it’s a sheer pity that the Michelin guide now drives chefs to this point of ubiquity. These are some of the most talented chefs in the world, and instead of differentiating themselves from other chefs, they’ve all become more and more alike. Restaurants that once had personality now feel like a standard upscale offering with overpriced food in small yet beautifully crafted portions with ingredients that most people aren’t sure how to eat. The Michelin guide has definitely driven the haute cuisine scene, but always in a better direction.
It’s even driven chefs over the edge. Quite famously, an iconic French chef by the name of Bernard Loiseau shot himself in 2003 due to his fear of losing his third Michelin star.
Sad as that is, countless other chefs truly feel the pressure and demands of this system and it’s hard for them to take. The result is a tremendous loss of talent in the culinary world. That’s not to say that the chefs that remain lack in talent in any way, however the Michelin guide has driven the heart and soul out of these establishments, replacing them with restaurant after restaurant with the same dulled ambience and unpronounceable offerings.
Having said all that,the Michelin guide isn’t a complete disaster. It does, after all, provide a rather robust guide of balanced restaurant assessments that serve diners well when seeking quality dining establishments. While controversial at times, this rating system will always ruffle some feathers but it still ultimately achieves accuracy in delivering reliable findings.
It’s a very fine line chefs must walk in order to achieve Michelin star status. Either chefs can let the stress wear them down by allowing it to have too much power over their culinary creativity, or they can continue to do what they love regardless of ratings. Love it or hate it, the Michelin guide isn’t going anywhere any time soon.