Margaret Rens describes the history of the Michelin Guide with a recipe of an appetizer she enjoyed at a Michelin star restaurant in Bordeaux.
Not many people know why Michelin is the publisher of a guide rating hotels and restaurants. After all they are a tire company, aren’t they?
The history of the famous red Guide starts in 1900. Brothers Edouard and André Michelin wanted to offer motorists a guide with information about petrol stations and garages across France. Since this was France and food was important they also included information on restaurants and accommodations. The idea behind their plan was of course to facilitate travelling by car, and thus expand the need for Michelin tires.
Their Guide was a great success and in 1908 they started a new service to help motorists map out their itinerary. In 1920 the brothers decided to upscale their Guide. They started selling it instead of giving it away and advertising in the Guide was no longer possible. The idea was that a customer would value the Guide more if they had to pay for it even if it was only a few francs.
The Michelin brothers are so serious about their Guide that they send out their own inspectors to check out restaurants and menus all over the country. To make a distinction between the levels of quality of the restaurants mentioned in the Guide they put in place the famous star system.
In 1926 the Michelin inspectors only had one star to award. In 1936 the system with 3 stars was born and it has never been changed since. The meaning of the stars is as follows – one star: a very good restaurant in its own category; two stars: excellent cooking, worth a detour; three stars: exceptional cuisine, worth a special trip.
The famous red cover of the Guide was put in place in 1931 and has been the same ever since.
The Michelin Guide played a very special part in the D-Day landings in France in 1944. The Allied forces feared that their progression would be delayed because all the signage had been altered, taken down or destroyed by the Germans. In deep secrecy the Paris Michelin management was contacted for help. The Michelin Guide had detailed maps of all the major cities of France and this could be very helpful for the allied forces. It was decided that the complete 1939 Michelin Guide would be reprinted in Washington and was to be distributed among the officers going to Europe.The only difference from the 1939 French edition was the mention on the cover stating “For official use only”. So it was that on D-Day the troops landed armed with the Michelin Guide in hand!
Good food is important for the French and they take it seriously. It is thus no wonder that after the war the publishing of a new France Michelin Guide was a top priority for all the Michelin inspectors. The required paper had been stockpiled during the war, allowing for sales to begin as early as 16 May – one week after V-E Day. A small notice printed on the cover stated, “This edition, prepared during the war, cannot be as complete and precise as our pre-war publications. Nevertheless, it should be useful.” Nowadays the Michelin Guide is printed in countless editions for many countries and cities.
Only a small percentage of the restaurants in the Guide have one or more stars awarded. And honestly, the starred restaurants are not what I use the Michelin Guide for. The starred restaurants are often very famous and already well known. When I am in an unfamiliar city I like to use the Guide for the lesser-known restaurants that aren’t discovered yet by the large crowds. And I can vouch that in all the years of using the Michelin Guide I have never ever been disappointed. But I also have to admit that if my husband invites me to a “Grand Table” with a star: I am more than happy to accept his invitation!
In Bordeaux we have several restaurants that are rated one or two Michelin stars. My personal favourite is the Haute Rive Saint James. The view from the terrace and dining room overlooking Bordeaux is breathtaking. And the food is delicious and creative. The chef Nicolas Magie is there every night to supervise his brigade in the kitchen and to take care of his guests. This personal approach appeals to me.
Last time in the restaurant we enjoyed an appetizer of a light mousseline served in an eggshell. I liked this appetizer so much I recreated my own version of it at home. Serve these elegant appetizers with a glass of Champagne and you’ll have the Michelin Star experience at home.
HAZELNUT MOUSSELINE IN AN EGGSHELL
- 3 egg yolks
- 30 gr butter
- 3 tbsp of hazelnut oil
- 6 tbsp of cream
- 3 tbsps roasted and chopped hazelnuts
- A few sprigs of chives
Making a mousseline is like making a mayonnaise. Start by beating the egg yolks with a mixer until they start to thicken. Melt the butter and add the warm butter little by little to the yolks while you continue beating. The mixture will thicken. Add the hazelnut oil drop by drop and keep beating. This mixture with the consistency of mayonnaise can be prepared a couple of hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator. When you want to serve it, heat the cream over a low heat till it just starts to boil. Take off the heat and beat the hot cream gradually into the hazelnut egg yolk mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon a teaspoon of chopped hazelnut on the bottom of a half egg shell or shot glass. Fill up with the hazelnut mousseline. Finish with a drop of hazelnut oil, some chopped hazelnuts and a sprig of chives. Eat from the glass or the egg shell with a small spoon. Makes 12 small portions.