What Michelin Stars Mean
Restaurants around the world strive to earn the coveted Michelin star status — but what exactly are Michelin stars, and why are they so important?
While the Michelin brand is globally well-known for its tires, the Paris-based company is also famous for its annual Michelin Guide. The prestigious red guide dates all the way back to 1900, when Michelin began encouraging new drivers to take road trips to local attractions. Among other things, the guide included anonymous European restaurant reviews that focused on the quality and flavor of food served, as well as mastery of culinary technique and personality of the dishes. Fast forward to 2005, when U.S. restaurants became eligible to earn Michelin stars for the first time.
Michelin stars are now considered a hallmark of fine dining by many of the world’s top chefs — not to mention restaurant patrons. Not easy to obtain, the stars are awarded to restaurants that Michelin considers the very best in a given city, and recipients gain immense prestige and exposure along with the honor, with many seeing an increase in business after receiving their stars (while some who lost stars have experienced the opposite).
Today, Michelin publishes annual guides for 28 countries and a wealth of cities around the world. In the U.S., Michelin Guides are available for New York City and Westchester County, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and the state of California.
How Michelin Stars Are Awarded
Plain and simple, a Michelin star is a badge of honor, regardless of how many a restaurant receives (between one and three, with three being the highest caliber). And there’s a method to the star rating system and is defined as follows:
One Star: The restaurant is considered “very good in its category” having a quality menu and prepares cuisine to a consistently high standard.
Two Stars: The restaurant has excellent cuisine delivered in a unique way, and has something exceptional to offer — it’s “worth a detour” to visit while traveling.
Three Stars: The restaurant has exceptional cuisine and thus “worth a special journey” just to visit. Rather than being a stop on the way to a destination, this restaurant is the destination. This restaurant serves distinct dishes that are executed to perfection.
Michelin inspectors are completely anonymous and must share a passion for food and an eye for detail. Inspectors are prohibited from speaking to journalists and are encouraged to keep their line of work secret even from family members.
When an inspector visits a restaurant, he or she writes a comprehensive report about the dining experience, with the quality of the food served on the plate taking center stage. Other factors include presentation and plating, the mastery of culinary techniques and quality of service. All of this information leads inspectors to decide which restaurants receive star status.
Both ICE and ICC have seen several students move on to Michelin-recommended restaurants, including dual-degree graduate Karen McGrath (ICE Pastry/Management, ’02) who currently oversees pastry at one-Michelin-starred The River Café in Brooklyn, Susan Kim (Health Supportive, ‘21) who is a line cook at three-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York, Michael Kerner (Management/Culinary, ‘20), sous chef at one-starred Kali in Los Angeles as well as Besnik Vata (Culinary, ‘19), chef de partie at Jeune et Jolie in San Diego.
ICC alumni include three-Michelin-starred Manresa’s chef-owner, David Kinch (ICC Dean); David Chang (ICC Culinary Arts, 2001) and Andrew Zimmerman (ICC Culinary Arts, 2000), chef/owner of one-starred Sepia in Chicago, among many, many others.
The prestige that comes with even a single Michelin star is an honor coveted by chefs around the world. To learn more about ICC’s Michelin star recipients, or get information about how ICE can help you launch your own culinary career, please fill out the form on this page.
This blog post was originally published by the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles.