The name Michelin often evokes swanky restaurants, excellent cuisine and star counts. But the history of the Michelin stars goes back more than a century to a pair of brothers who sold tires. So how does a tire company go on to create one of the most prestigious restaurant rating systems? From the tire to the table, we’re explaining the history of Michelin stars as well as our favorite Michelin experiences in France.
From Tire to Table: How the Michelin Star was Born
Who Were the Michelin Brothers?
Hailing from Clermont-Ferrand, brothers André and Édouard Michelin had a challenge. They had a tire company, but in 1889, there were only several thousand cars in France. Alas, how could they inspire the French to purchase cars and eventual tires? “The Michelins were determined to turn vehicles from a novelty that took drivers to a Sunday picnic to a viable mode of transportation over long distances,” writes Richard Feloni in Business Insider.
Perhaps a bit of travel inspiration would get people into the driver’s seat. Much like bloggers do today, the brothers decided to create the Michelin Guide with recommendations. These books included hotel and restaurant recommendations, information on how to change a tire and road maps. And more than a century later, this tire company’s guide has become a sort of litmus test for fine dining. The first Michelin guide was published in 1900, and over the years, these originally free guides continued to grow and evolve, per ERIH.
How Does Michelin Operate?
Who gives out Michelin stars to restaurants? We don’t know. The Michelin brothers had anonymous restaurant inspectors who would visit different establishments, and this tradition continues today, per Michelin. Usually boasting culinary backgrounds, these inspectors aren’t allowed to speak to journalists and must undergo Michelin training in France, according to Business Insider. Technically, the Michelin Guide awards stars to the restaurant, not the chef.
What do the Michelin Stars Signify?
In 1926, the first Michelin stars were given with just one star total being possible; several years later, they increased it to three total stars. One star means “a very good restaurant in category,” two stars means “excellent cooking, worth a detour,” three stars mean “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” per Great Big Story.
Michelin’s criteria considered are: food quality, cooking techniques, chef’s personality displayed in the menu, consistency and flavor harmony.
It’s not only about stars. They also have the Bib Gourmand symbol, which is awarded to restaurants who have good quality food at affordable prices. Other symbols in the guide may mention the restaurant’s stunning views, its impressive wine list or its outdoor dining.
Where Can I Find Michelin-starred Restaurants?
Although the Michelin Guide is French, the restaurant need not be in France to earn a Michelin star. It makes sense that France would have the most Michelin stars awarded with more than 600 Michelin-starred restaurants in 2023. The runner-up goes to Japan, which has more than 400 Michelin-starred restaurants. Other countries in the Top 10 list include Italy, Germany and the United States. In France, Michelin stars aren’t reserved only for Paris or even large cities; you can find 3-star Michelin restaurants in charming towns such as Menton and Annecy. At French Side Travel, we’d be more than happy to help you plan your trip with great Michelin stops along the way.
Interested in not only visiting France but also tasting the best of its Michelin-renowned cuisine? French Side Travel offers several luxurious experiences for our foodie travels looking for the best of the best.
Dinner Cruise in Paris
Enjoy a splendid boat ride along the Seine complemented with an exquisite meal. Under the direction of Michelin-starred chef Frédéric Anton, you’ll enjoy the best of French cuisine. The meal includes five courses along with a glass of champagne and a glass of red or white wine. As you sip on your wine, you’ll cruise past the incontournables of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, Louvre and Notre Dame. Be sure to dress to the nines as the dress code is formal.
Cooking Class with Michelin Chef in Provence
Nestled in the heart of Provence, the Château de Berne offers not only a luxurious place to stay but also the opportunity to take a cooking class with a Michelin-starred chef. You’ll learn new recipes, which feature produce from their gardens, in a traditional kitchen. After you complete your recipes, you’ll enjoy them with wine from the domain.
Private Cooking Class in the Loire Valley
Get some quality time with a Michelin-starred chef as you learn and make classic French recipes. This private cooking class reflects the season in order to provide fresh ingredients and authenticity. Perhaps you’ll make a Blanquette de veau with his signature of Sologne chanterelles and spring onions. Or maybe you’ll make the chef’s version of a tomato salad topped with roses and passion fruit. And don’t worry: you’ll get to taste your dishes!
Where to Stay in France with Michelin Experiences
Les Sources de Caudalie
Tucked south of Bordeaux, les Sources de Caudalie is a five-star palace hotel located in the Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyards. Escape from the city center with a stay in one of these 61 rooms and suites in Martillac. You can’t miss a visit to its Vinothérapie Spa where you can enjoy a Crushed Cabernet scrub. Not only will you drink well, but you’ll also dine well at its Michelin-starred restaurant La Grand’Vigne.
Le Petit Nice Passedat
Located on the glamorous Corniche along the Mediterranean, le Petit Nice Passedat isn’t known just for its views. This five-star hotel boasts a restaurant with three Michelin stars. You’ll nosh on the craftsmanship of chef Gérald Passedat with an unobstructed view of Marseille’s blue waves. You can’t go wrong with his 6-course My Bouille Abaisse menu, which features Marseille’s famed fish soup. President Macron has even been known to dine here!
Is the history of the Michelin star making you crave a trip to France? You might enjoy: A Perfect Mixture Between Gastronomic and Cultural Discoveries in Champagne, Burgundy, and Lyon or Luxury Dive Into French Gastronomy. Need some help planning your trip?