The Secrets of the Michelin Guide Revealed!

A rare behind the scenes look at what it takes to be a Michelin Guide restaurant inspector.

By Ben Leventhal
|  Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009  |  Updated 12:24 AM CDT
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The Secrets of the Michelin Guide Revealed!

An ad for the 2009 Michelin Restaurant guides, playing up their "inspectors" anonymity.

Today the New Yorker drops its annual Food Issue, and included therein is Lunch with M., a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the life of a Michelin Guide restaurant "inspector" ("reviewer" or "critic" in the parlance of every single other media outlet in the world).  The inspectors are the secret agents of the restaurant world, legendarily undercover, perhaps the last truly anonymous critics in the business.  They are the sole keepers of Michelin's stars, internationally considered the most important rating system of all, though, it should be noted, with substantially less clout in the United States than elsewhere.  Managing Director of the guides and walking stereotypical Frenchman, Jean Luc Naret, claims his inspectors eat thousands of meals around the world every year, mostly alone. They are discouraged from telling even their spouses of their profession--exactly the kind of absurd, stunt-y, overblown, purposefully publicized rule that preserves the air of mystery around his guide books.

A reveal of the type that The New Yorker has today has only happened once before, in 2004, when then-inspector Pascal Rémy published "L’Inspecteur Se Met à Table" ("The Inspector Sits Down at the Table”), a book based on his fifteen years as a reviewer for the red book.  "Lunch with M." is an important look at the Michelin process, which is criticized for being myopically French and unrepresentative of American diners' taste.  There is also doubt about Michelin's claim of having so many inspectors eating so many meals all over the world.  10 inspectors stateside eating 200 days a year, puts Michelin's costs in the United States alone at several million dollars annually--a figure that doesn't seem entirely plausible.  But their nebulous math aside, the real issue with Michelin is that its system is too stiff, and on this topic today's reveal provides new insight into why this is the case.  Observe:  

“It’s not really a ‘like’ and a ‘not like,’ ” [Michelin inspector, 'M'] said. “It’s an analysis. You’re eating it and you’re looking for the quality of the products. At this level, they have to be top quality. You’re looking at ‘Was every single element prepared exactly perfectly, technically correct?’ And then you’re looking at the creativity. Did it work? Did the balance of ingredients work? Was there good texture? Did everything come together? Did something overpower something else? Did something not work with something else? The pistachios—everything was perfect.”

 Get More: The New Yorker

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