The Michelin Guide to fine dining, which has begun unveiling its 2019 edition this month, began recommending restaurants in France a century ago before branching out to become one of the most competitive international guides of its kind. The journey, though, has not been without a few unexpected twists and turns.
Born On The Road
The red-covered guide is published by the French tyre manufacturer of the same name, its tyre-man mascot on the cover giving a hint of its origins. It was first published in France in 1900 when there were fewer than 3,000 automobiles on the roads but the prospects for car travel were promising.
To encourage motorists to take to the road and so boost their tyre-manufacturing business, brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin decided to print a travel guide. At first distributed for free, it included maps, a how-to on changing tyres, and lists of mechanics and hotels along the route.
The first run of 35,000 copies was such a success that guides for Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Spain followed.
Michelin introduced restaurant listings in 1920, when it started charging for the guide, later sending out undercover inspectors. In the early 1930s came the ratings via a star hierarchy that developed into the highly competitive and coveted formula for which the guide is perhaps best known today.
One star indicates "A very good restaurant in its category"; two stars is for "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"; and three rates "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey".
Since 1997, Michelin has also been awarding a Bib Gourmand nod, which is not a star but designates an eatery offering excellent food at moderate prices. Of about 20,000 international restaurants listed, only around 100 have attained the highest distinction.