Michelin, Get Out of the Kitchen!

Just over a century ago, two French tire manufacturers created the Michelin guide. According to the author, it has blighted the lives of chefs from Brooklyn to Bombay, while spawning legions of checklist gourmands.

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    More A. A. Gill describes his experiences in Michelin-starred restaurants.

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    A little more than a hundred years ago, a pair of brothers invented the food guide. It was an inadvertent invention. What they thought they’d done was compile a directory of places in France where you could grab a baguette and a bed for the night while some rural blacksmith or farrier tried to mend your broken-down Boitel, Motobloc, Otto, or Lacoste & Battmann. The brothers, Édouard and André Michelin, made pneumatic tires and were staring down the road at the biggest blue-sky start-up industry of the new century.

    The Michelin guide turned out to be prescient and inspired. This motoring thing wasn’t going to be about what you went in but where you went to. The guide quickly became not an emergency manual but a destination invitation. They added a star system—one, two, or three stars—and a hieroglyphic lexicon to show you where you could eat on a terrace, take your dog, or make a phone call.

    The Michelin guide made kitchens as competitive as football teams, becoming the most successful and prestigious guidebook in the world, and along the way it killed the very thing it had set out to commend. It wasn’t the only assassin of the greatest national food ever conceived, but it’s not hyperbole to say Michelin was French haute cuisine’s Brutus.

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