Most serious chefs dream of earning recognition and accolades from their peers in the restaurant world. In terms of prestige, being awarded Michelin Stars (particularly three, the highest level) is sort of like the Oscar award of the culinary world. What does it mean to be awarded this honor and how does a chef and restaurant earn this distinction? Ai InSite talked to the renowned Executive Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, one of only seven New York City restaurants to earn three Michelin Stars in 2012. We also turned to Leslie Eckert, a Chef instructor at The Art Institute of Tampa, for an understanding of how the Michelin rating system works.
The Michelin Red Guide started as a guidebook for travelers in France, helping them find food, gas stations, and hotels. In later years, other European countries were added and Michelin started reviewing and rating more and more establishments. Now the Michelin Red Guide covers three U.S. cities: New York, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay and Wine Country. Michelin itself (yes, the same Michelin that makes tires) refers to its guides as the benchmark in gourmet dining.
“Three-star rankings are extremely rare with only 26 three-star rankings in France and 81 in the world in 2009,” Eckert says.
In order to recognize up-and-coming restaurants, Michelin began awarding “rising stars” to restaurants that may have the future potential of earning stars.
“Bib Gourmand, also known as ‘The Bib’ is awarded to restaurants offering good food at moderate prices,” Eckert says.
Chefs and restaurant owners in the running for a star must be absolutely vigilant about their quality and service because inspector visits are anonymous and thorough.
“Michelin inspectors visit every Michelin-rated restaurant once every 18 months. A prospective one-star restaurant candidate could receive up to four visits prior to its award. A perspective two- or three-star restaurant could receive up to 10 visits prior to its award. Visits are anonymous,” Eckert says.
What is it like to be the recipient of this prestigious award? Eleven Madison Park in New York City received three Michelin Stars for the first time in 2012. Sharing in this honor are both Executive Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara.
“With every accolade that we’ve received, we’ve been incredibly humbled,” Humm says. “Those awards have encouraged us to continue on our path toward trying to be the best, most innovative, most inspired restaurant that we can be. And with that goal comes the spark to take risks and to push the envelope.”
After the disappointment of not receiving the coveted stars in 2009, Humm and Guidara used the setback as motivation to push harder to become a better restaurant. In the years leading up to the award, the restaurant constantly made changes to reinvent itself.
“When we first became a fine dining restaurant, we looked to the other fine dining restaurants of the world for inspiration. Eventually, though, we realized that in order to be groundbreaking, we had to do things that had never been done before,” Humm says.
With some major menu changes and revolutionizing the entire dining experience, Eleven Madison Park was able to become a restaurant that stood apart from the rest.
Receiving three Michelin Stars has given Humm and Eleven Madison Park the freedom to experiment even more with the restaurant.
“In receiving the recognition that comes with these prestigious awards, we feel as though we no longer have to prove ourselves; rather, we have to live up to and surpass the expectations that come with them. As such, we are able to take risks knowing that our diners trust in us and believe in what we are doing,” Humm says.
Of course Michelin stars are not the only rating system for restaurants. Other publications abound and their reviews are also important in the culinary world. For example, restaurants in New York covet a great rating and stars from the New York Times.
“As a restaurant that seeks to embody New York, it was a tremendous honor to receive four stars from the New York Times. It had been one of our greatest goals for a long time, and it marked a significant turning point for us as a restaurant,” Humm says.
However, earning three Michelin Stars meant something extra to Humm. As a native of Switzerland, he grew up working in Michelin-starred restaurants around Europe. Because of this, he always dreamt that Eleven Madison Park would rank with the best of the revered European restaurants. Now that this has been achieved, the future is looking bright for Eleven Madison Park.
“More than anything, though, we want to inspire others as much as we’ve been inspired. We’re incredibly proud to have just published our first cookbook; we’re working on the NoMad Hotel project; we’re enjoying working together with so many amazing people. One could say that we have our hands full,” Humm says.
Written by freelance talent for Ai InSite