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What's on the Menu? The Story of the Michelin Guide

Gordon Ramsay was so distraught when his New York restaurant, The London, lost its two prestigious Michelin Stars in 2015, that the news made him weepy.

The celebrity chef – as famous for his colourful language as for his colourful cooking – remarked in an interview: 'I started crying when I lost my stars. It's a very emotional thing for any chef.’

But what is it about the Michelin Star that can reduce a grown man to tears? To understand that, we need to go back to the beginning and trace the journey of this distinguished culinary award.

What are Michelin Stars?

Awarded for food excellence in restaurants, Michelin Stars are coveted by all chefs. If you don’t have one you want one and if you have one, you want another one. When a restaurant is awarded one Michelin Star, it is a sign that the chef has succeeded at the highest level. Two Stars and the restaurant is likely to be populated by the glitterati. Three, and the restaurant is often booked out for months in advance and populated by the glitterati.


Michelin Stars originated in a country best known for its passion for cuisine – France. Originally they were a feature of the Michelin guide books published in 1900 by Andre and Edourd Michelin - the founders of the Michelin tyre company. Having started the company in 1889 the brothers were looking for a method to compel the then limited number of drivers to make more journeys and by extension, buy more tyres. The guide listed a wealth of information for motorists which included where to find the best meals and accommodation whilst touring in their cars.

As the business grew, so did the guide, becoming so popular that a charge was introduced in 1920.

By then, the dining element was in such high demand that Michelin decided to set up a team of inspectors whose job it was to visit – anonymously - and rate restaurants on a 3-category basis. The rating systems – still in place today and with more than a passing nod to its motoring roots - was referred to as ‘Michelin Stars’. 3 stars being ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’, 2 stars ‘excellent cooking, worth a detour and 1 star, a very good restaurant in its category’


By 1933, 23 restaurants in France were rated with three stars. It was further extended to cover other European countries and while suspended during and immediately after WW2, the 1951 edition saw the return of the three-star rating system. This time however the bar had been raised resulting in fewer restaurants achieving the maximum rating.

Today, Michelin Stars are awarded selectively to a small number of restaurants globally, for outstanding quality. The 2016 guide lists 3 restaurants in the UK as having the maximum three stars – The Dorchester (Alain Ducasse), The Waterside Inn (Michel Roux) and – here Gordon Ramsay can shed tears of joy - Gordon Ramsay (for his eponymous restaurant).

Michelin themselves recognise the marketing benefits: "From an image standpoint, it certainly has helped as a halo for a tyre brand. Because tyres, of course, aren't the sexiest product," Tony Fouladpour, Michelin director of corporate public relations, has commented.

"The image of Michelin is that of a premium, high-quality brand. And some say that the Michelin Guide is the Bible of all dining guides," he says.

By Tracey McBain