Michelin's famous Guide Rouge is the annual guide to the "best" restaurants and hotels, according the the Michelin reviewers who crisscross the country, or city, anonymously sampling the dining rooms and bedrooms of the establishments.
There are versions of the Red Guide for the major cities in 23 different countries of the world,. We're interested here in the Michelin Red Guide for France, and especially in how it covers Provence and the South of France.
The hardcover Red Guide France runs to over 2000 pages, with excellent printing on very fine paper. The language is French, but the well-known Michelin icons and symbols are explained in six languages (French, English, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese). There are excellent color maps of towns to help locate the restaurants and hotel. A separate symbols card is provided; that as well as the attached cloth bookmark are fine usability touches.
In addition to the extensive information on hotels and restaurants, Michelin Red Guides are very handy for motoring information. The town-center maps for towns and cities are excellent, and the guide still lists the automobile garages by marque.
An interesting anecdote has it that the early "worth a detour" or "worth a visit" notation for a restaurant or hotel had the ulterior motive of promoting additional tire wear, a significant factor in early 20th-century motoring.
Being assigned a Michelin star (or two or three) can result in elation, celebration and wealth. The loss of a "star" brings the opposite, and has had dire consequences. For a bit more history, look at "Michelin Guide History".
Michelin Guide Star System
The Michelin Cuisine Star system judges restaurants on the quality of the cuisine,. Judgements are based on the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the presentation, the combination of flavours and the consistency of culinary standards.
"Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" ("Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage"). You'll get a great meal, and it will probably cost accordingly and it will be an un-hurried event. Only 26 3-star restaurants in France, and only 81 worldwide.
"Excellent cooking, worth a detour" ("Table excellente, mérite un détour"). You'll probably get a showpiece meal created by a famous chef.
"A very good restaurant in its category" ("Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie"). At the bottom of the star structure, but still in the top 10 percent of all restaurants. You'll get a good meal at a reasonable price.
The Michelin Red Guide France awarded these stars:
2009: 26, 73, 449 restaurants 3-star, 2-star, 1-star
2006: 26, 70, 425 restaurants 3-star, 2-star, 1-star
2005: 26, 70, 402 restaurants 3-star, 2-star, 1-star
1995: 20, 77, 445 restaurants 3-star, 2-star, 1-star
About 90 percent of the restaurants in the Michelin Guide Rouge do not obtain a star, but are listed because they still offer a good level of quality, especially with a "good kitchen". Restaurants found to be unacceptable are simply not listed in the Guide.
Other Michelin Ratings
Whether a listed restaurant is or is not awarded a star, it can also be awarded other marks of distinction: Bib for price-quality; fork-spoon for comfort; coin for cost; grapes for good wine.
Red-versus-Black. Any of the ratings presented in red indicates a "pleasance" level as a bonus to the actual rating; it could be a restaurant with a great view or dining room with some additional comfort factor.
Bib Gourmand Restaurants
The Bib Gourmand rating is awarded to restaurants offering good meals at moderate prices, independent of the star system.
Comfort Class of Restaurants
In principle a star-restaurant could be located in a shack with wooden benches and still meet the appropriate culinary requirement, although a French 3-star client does expect tablecloths and crystal wine glasses. The crossed fork-spoon symbol is awarded to restaurants for an added level of comfort, independent of the star rating. A single fork-spoon (couvert) indicates a Quite Comfortable restaurant, up to the 5-fork-spoon symbol for a Luxurious restaurant.
The Non-French Connection
The French edition of the Michelin Red Guide, the most revered and the most feared of the world famous restaurant guides, is controlled by a woman — a very non-French German woman.
In December 2008, Juliane Caspar from Bochum in western Germany was appointed as the new editor-in-chief of the French version of "the guide". Her job is to co-ordinate the Red Guide's team of anonymous inspectors in France with the goal of assigning, re-grading and removing the coveted Michelin stars.
Previous Michelin Star Changes
The 2006 Michelin Guide France awarded a third star for the Maisons de Bricourt (chef Olivier Roellinger) at Cancale in northeastern Britany, and took away another star from Paris' famous Tour d'Argent, now a 1-star restaurant.
The number of one-star restaurants has increased from 402 to 425.
Paris' Lucas Carton (chef Alain Senderens) moved from three to two stars, as the restaurant was changed to a simpler and less-expensive establishment. Paris' La Table (chef Joël Robuchon) gained a second star. Chef Didier Anies' La Coupole in Monte-Carlo obtained its first star, as did his Alelier in Paris, a new style of dining around the bar. A first star was awarded to L'Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de La Celle in La Celle, one of 13 "star" restaurants run by Alain Ducasse.
Four restaurants obtaining two stars were Chez Ruffet at Jurançon (a suburb of Pau in the Pyrenées [map]), Le Château de Beaulieu at Béthune (near Lille [map]), La Bastide de Capelongue at Bonnieux, and Le Flocon de Sel at Megeve (in the Alps near Mont Blanc [map]).