What does it take to win a Michelin star according to The Michelin Guide?

The Staff Canteen

It is considered the ultimate success for many chefs and for years restaurants have been working towards earning one of fine dining's most coveted awards, but what does it take to win a Michelin star?

Most chefs want one, but not everyone can get one, it is the ultimate 'unicorn' of awards, but when it comes to attaining a Michelin star, what do restaurants need to do to achieve this?

The panel in discussion

This perennial question was the hot point at the recent MICHELIN Guide Singapore Trade Seminar where an esteemed panel including Michael Ellis, international director of MICHELIN Guides, Philipp Blaser, vice president of food and beverage at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts (Asia Pacific), Alvin Leung, chef/owner of three-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, Lam Ming Kin, chef/owner of one-Michelin-starred Longtail in Taipei and Yeo See Kiat of Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international gastronomy association discussed it.

The panel explored why some restaurants have a Michelin star whilst others don't and what are the key ‘ingredients’ required to win the most sought-after accolade. From their wealth of experience, they were able to shed light on what criteria the Michelin inspectors use to assess if a restaurant does or does not deserve a Michelin star. Everything is conducted in a fair and impartial way with inspectors dining anonymously and paying for their meals in order to maintain the independence of their opinion.

Michelin has been awarding stars since the inception of the scheme in 1926 when a restaurant was awarded just one star, this further evolved into a hierarchy of one, two and three stars just five years later in 1931. Michelin inspectors can award restaurants one star ("very good cooking in its category"), two stars ("excellent cooking, worth a detour") or three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special journey").

So, what are the key criteria for winning a Michelin star?

They must use quality products

Michael Ellis, international director of MICHELIN Guides reveals that as one might expect, using fresh produce is essential. However, it is not necessarily pivotal that restaurants use premium ingredients such as foie gras, truffle and similar, simply to garner the attention of the Michelin inspector. He says: “I want to debunk this myth. I have seen a three-starred restaurant use beets and smoked eel in its menu. Making the simple sublime will get our attention.”

Chefs must master both flavour and culinary techniques

This might seem blindingly obvious and there is no doubt that restaurants and chefs that do not hold a Michelin star have mastered both aspects of this with ease. However, Alvin Leung, chef/owner of three-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong feels that it is important to break down flavours to fit into different categories such as sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty and (in his case) umami whilst still considering the likes of texture.

He says: “You can come up with a practical dish by playing with the ingredients and moving colours and textures around.”

Alvin also emphasises the importance of embracing a practical approach when designing stand-out dishes, especially to ensure that these dishes are aligned with the restaurant’s identity. He added:“There has to be a balance in showcasing the ingredients, but one needs to be practical and ensure that business can remain sustainable. If you use too many luxury ingredients, you are only featuring luxury."

Does the cuisine reflect the personality of the chef?

There are lots of standout Michelin star chefs whose personality is reflected in both the restaurant and the cuisine it serves. This is the case of Alvin Leung who is renowned for his ‘demon chef’ moniker and whilst this is reflected in both of his Hong Kong and Shanghai restaurants, he does agree that there are boundaries that he needs to be mindful of.

He says:“I have to alter the personality of the dishes to cater to the customers whom I am cooking for.”

Does the restaurant provide value for money?

Regardless of whether this is a Michelin-starred gastropub or the very epitome of fine dining, the diners need to feel that they have had value for money, but what does this mean exactly?

Yeo interprets that this means that someone ‘comes out of a restaurant with a memorable experience’. He says: “Value is having a wow factor. It should include a total experience, from the attentiveness of the service staff and ambience to food.”

It’s all about making customers happy says Chef and restauranteur Beppe de Vito who believes that all eateries, regardless of their target audiences, should focus on making customers happy and treating them equally.

Is the food consistent?

Michael Ellis, drawing upon his experience as working as a commis chef reveals that restaurants can just have a ‘bad day’ and consistency can be compromised if key staff members have failed to show up for work or if suppliers have failed to deliver essential ingredients.

He reveals that inspectors visit an establishment more than once when they are looking at the other end of the scale – restaurants losing a Michelin star. He elaborates: “That’s why our inspectors visit a restaurant two or three times, with different inspectors visiting each time, before making a decision.”

The panel pondered if having fewer covers resulted in having a higher propensity to win a Michelin Star?

Michael believes that this is not necessarily true, citing that both the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in New York City and the Paris-based one-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Jules Verne both undertake a high volume of covers.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd August 2018

What does it take to win a Michelin star according to The Michelin Guide?