So why is everyone so hung up over this rating system?
Well, for starters, Michelin is the only international rating system for the hospitality industry, and it has been publishing guides for over a century. You probably recognize the brand for its tires, and yes, it’s the same one.
In 1900, the French company created their first guide to restaurants, hotels,
and other travel information as a way to promote auto-tourism (and sell more tires). With a couple of business model tweaks, the Michelin Guide eventually developed an esteemed reputation, and their stars have become the ultimate stamp of excellence in fine dining globally. Where but France do you find tire salesmen moonlighting as lifestyle curators? Unsurprisingly, the country is home to more star-winning restaurants than any other—Paris alone boasting 70!
In 2006 Michelin began to cover outside of Europe, and most recently they’ve issued guides for Japan and Brazil. Michelin reviewers work long hours, driving around, eating absolutely everywhere—secretly, and on the company’s dime—so you can imagine the level of investment that goes into running this kind of operation on a world scale.
As the Guides continue to grow in importance covering more and more fabulous cities, here’s what you need to know to smartly navigate the fine dining scene—plus a few French award-winners that have caught my eye.
Michelin Says: A good place to stop, demonstrating consistent high-standards.
Gina’s Take: I find I almost always love a one-star restaurant! The food is reliably fabulous yet accessible, with an unfussy atmosphere that still feels chic. I can feel confident walking into one of these restaurants in whatever I happen to be wearing (as I typically am put together even when I’m casual).
Michelin Says: Of outstanding quality, it’s worth a detour to dine here.
Gina’s Take: Usually a little more upscale and memorable than the one-stars, these are not as easy to find. To know what to wear for a night at a new two-star restaurant, I’ll consult the guide to see the fork-and-spoon designation indicating how elegant the ambiance is.
Michelin Says: Make a special journey! This is superb.
Gina’s Take: Sometimes for me a three-star restaurant can be a bit uptight, with futuristic food that isn’t quite my taste. However some three-star establishments are all around spectacular, and definitely worthy of fully dressing up to honor the high-level cuisine and enjoy the glamour of it all.
Criteria: Stars are awarded exclusively on the food, considering mastery, technique, character, value for money and consistency. Inspectors write detailed reports for every meal, and the methodology is the same no matter where they are in the world. Decor and service are not factors—the Guides show how elegant a restaurant is independently of the stars. While in Europe three-star restaurants do tend to be lavishly decorated, many of the Japanese selections are sparse and minimal—the only luxuries being the supreme quality of the fish and immense skill of the kitchen.
Selection: A two-star restaurant must have been visited ten times to receive three stars! Of all the locations shown in any Michelin Guide, very few receive three stars. Take France for example: the 2015 Guide features 609 Michelin starred restaurants, with 503 one-starred, 80 two-starred and 26 three-starred.
Regions Covered by Michelin
France; Belgium and Luxembourg; Germany; Great Britain and Ireland; Italy; the Netherlands; Spain and Portugal; Switzerland.
Paris; Chicago; Honk Kong and Macau; Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara; Las Vegas; London; Los Angeles; Main Cities of Europe; New York City; San Francisco and Bay Area; Tokyo, Yokohama and Shonan; Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
To describe the level of sophistication and elegance of a restaurant, Michelin awards little forks and spoons on a scale of 1-5. One fork and spoon represents a “comfortable restaurant” whereas five means a “luxurious restaurant.”
When you’re looking for a more casual dining option, check out the Michelin Guide’s “Bib Gourmand” award. This category considers deliciousness and value, offering props to good food at a lower price point. Adventurous eaters will delight in fun curry houses and funky gastropubs!
Of the 26 three-star restaurants in France, here are three I’ve got my eye on for a special journey.
Maison Pic is helmed by France’s only three-starred woman chef, Anne-Sophie Pic. Located in the town of Valence, known as the “door to the south of France,” it would be the perfect destination to begin a glamorous train ride down to Marseille.
Flocons de Sel
I’m not a big skier, but this three-star restaurant that also boasts a hotel, bistro, and cooking school has me dreaming of a glamorous weekend in the French Alps.
This beautiful glass restaurant perched high above the French countryside is a dream come true! Why not spend a night in Maison Bras’ chic modernist hotel, just to take in the peaceful scenery and experience the three-star cuisine from Chef Sebastien Bras.
Super Star Chefs to Know
Known as “Chef of the Century,” French legend Joël Robuchon is today decorated with a whopping 25 Michelin Stars. Robuchon’s award winning restaurants can be found in Paris, London, Tokyo, Monaco, Las Vegas…the list goes on and on!
Another French culinary titan, Alain Ducasse has received 21 stars. Aside form his food, he is known for the detailed luxury of his restaurants evoking the courts of French royalty. Like Robuchon, Ducasse’s fine dining empire spans the globe.
At the helm of her family’s legendary restaurant Maison Pic, Anne-Sophie Pic’s modern take on haute French cuisine has earned her three Michelin stars. She won an additional two for her restaurant in Switzerland, Anne-Sophie Pic au Beau-Rivage Palace, and has recently opened another, La Dame de Pic in Paris. Expect to see Pic’s star-count rise as she expands to NYC.
Thomas Keller is the first and only American Chef to hold multiple three-star ratings for his celebrated restaurants Per Se in NYC and French Laundry in California. He’s also the Chef behind the beloved Beverly Hills bakery Bouchon.