Published on December 23rd, 2016 | by Anne-Fleur Andrle Stephan0
“Le Guide Michelin”
“Le Guide Michelin” is an institution that awards the top chefs in France with its famous stars. We all have heard of it, or at least of the name.
But what about Michelin? The name is famous by itself, right? It’s the famous French tire brand. Have you ever wondered how a tires’ manufacturer has become the standard for fine gourmet cuisine? This is the question we will try to answer today.
What is the “Guide Michelin”?
It is often called the “Red Guide” (guide rouge) because of its famous thick red cover. It is actually a hotel and tourism directory, originally created in the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris.
Every year since the early 20th century, Michelin selects various hotels, restaurants and lodgings, to be reviewed. The criticism never goes beyond a length of three lines. Already this famous guide has been in existence for 115 years, which since its first edition has sold over 30 million copies!
This valuable guide launched at the 1900 World Fair taking place in Paris. Back then, it was more of an advertising guide offered to customers of Michelin tires. In 1900, the automobile was still new (there were only 2400 drivers in France at the time). Most Michelin sales focused on bicycle tires because cars were still a fancy objects which people were considering buying but did not yet own. It was important to the Michelin brothers to give the public a reason to have a car of their own and to travel across the country (and, in turn, use more tires). The idea behind this guide was to reference the available motorist stops across the country: from mechanic shops to hotels, to doctors’ offices and some potential layover city maps. No restaurants had been included, yet!
After twelve years, the guide decided to stop placing advertisements to avoid input on editorial decisions. In 1920, customers began having to pay for the guide. Apparently, André Michelin had visited one of its tire resellers and saw that Michelin guides had been placed in pile as a prop in the workshop. André decided to sell the guide on the assumption that man only respects what he pays for.
It was also that year that restaurants began to appear in the guide. Customers could submit their reviews to the guide as anonymous “inspectors.” These reviews were typically complimentary.
But why did Michelin invest so much into this little book? The notation “worth a detour” or “worth the trip” sought to reward certain businesses in order to encourage drivers to use their tires!
The famous stars came along a few years later. In 1926, there were the “étoiles de bonne table” (“Good Table’s stars”); in 1931, the ranking from 1, 2 to 3 stars, recognized businesses on a major road connecting Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, but later developed to include more French territory.
An interesting anecdote, though one that I could not verify: in 1940, the Germans were equipped with Michelin guides and this significantly facilitated the French invasion. Knowing this, and before the D-Day on the French coasts in 1944, it was agreed that the 1939 guide would be reprinted in Washington DC and distributed to each American officer in the operation in order to facilitate the advance of the troops on the roads and in French cities destroyed by the Germans.
Today, Michelin guides have diversified. The Red Guide remains the top reference in for restaurants and hotels in France. In 2006, the guide opened to the world. The guide is now also found across, Europe and in major cities such as New York and Tokyo. It also now offers the guide “Coups de Cœurs”, dedicated to hotels and guest houses, “Les Guides Gourmands” for typical regional restaurants, or the “Guide Vert” (“Green Guide”) for tourism.
Originally a marketing gamble, the Michelin Guide has become unquestionably THE reference in terms of gastronomy. Have you ever tested a Michelin-star restaurant? Tell us about it!