The Michelin Guide, simply referred to as "The Guide" in France is a yearly publication which rates restaurants all over the world. Getting a rating in this prestigious guidebook is one of the most important distinctions for a high end restaurant and earns it international acclaim.
The Michelin Guide was started by the Michelin Tire company in France in 1900, and was given away for free. The idea being, give people an reliable source for amazing restaurants, hotels and hotspots so they will drive more, buy more cars, and buy more tires. It was filled with maps and suggestions for places to travel to. During World War II the guide stopped reviewing and printing in 1939 until they were requested by the allied forces in 1944 to reprint the 1939 guide because they contained the best and more up to date maps which were used to plan the allied offensives.
The Michelin guide system is composed of a book which is specific to a region or city. Chicago, San Francisco, New York City all have specific guides made for these cities. The Chicago book has about 400 restaurants listed in the book, and just to be listed in the guide denote that it is of a very high caliber. In Chicago only 19 of those 400 restaurants were given the rating of 1 Star, 3 earned 2 stars and only 2 restaurants in Chicago earned the coveted 3 stars which is the highest ranking given by the Michelin guide. There are only 81 three star Restaurants in the world currently. Obviously this is a very coveted position to be in
The basic guidelines of the star system is, if it's mentioned in the guide it's worth going to, if it has a star it's worth traveling to from a nearby town. If it has 2 stars it's worth traveling from anywhere in a state, and if it has 3 stars it's worth traveling from anywhere in the world to visit. Of course in typical french snootiness, if it's not in the guide, it's not worth going to.
Michelin inspectors are professionally trained anonymous patrons. Each guidebook has a large number of inspectors and the names and likenesses are a closely held secret. According the Michelin the inspectors are instructed to not even tell their own families that they are Michelin inspectors, because their mother might brag about them.
Bernard Loiseau, The Chef/Owner of La Cote D'or was quoted to say that if his Paris restaurant ever lost it's third Star he would kill himself. He had received his 3rd star in 1991. After receiving this prestigious honor he lent his name to a line of frozen foods, and slowly his reputation and food suffered to the changing times. In 2003 he was once again awarded three stars but he had a lot of bad press from a food writer Francois Simon, both before and after the announcement making it clear he was on very thin ice (sound like Ratatouille to anyone else?) Early in February 2003 Bernard took his own life.
A powerful publication around the world, and one of the best guides for high end food, I have eaten at two 3 star restaurants and they were both amongst the best meals I have ever eaten in my life. I hope to be blessed enough to do it again in the future. I ate at The French Laundry in Napa, and Alinea in Chicago. Both worthwhile expenses if you can afford it!