Rumors and stories of lax inspections, bias and star-system drama have cropped up over the years, following the popularity and the enormous influence of the Michelin Restaurant Guide.
Bias Towards French Cuisine
International food critics often shout that the Michelin rating system is inherently biased toward French cuisine. For a start, we would think that this is no doubt true to some degree, but rather obvious for a system that has grown up for over a hundred years in the French gastronomical world. Being non "experts", we find it difficult to see how comparitive tastes can be measured between cuisines of very different dining cultures — or why it should be.
There's a frequent complaint that the Michelin inspections and reviews are so slow that there's a multi-year lag between the quality of a restaurant and the published classification. That's a pretty serious consideration for the consumers, when it results in diners going to a restaurant for the menus of a few years ago.
A more serious complaint is that the inspection standards are actually very lax, and that each restaurant is visited about every 3.5 years, and not the 18-month average claimed by Michelin. This is from a 2004 book by Pascal Rémy, a former Michelin reviewer .
An extra Michelin star, or the loss of one, can mean the difference to great fame and wealth or shame and failure. Whether the top chefs involved are the picturesque high-strung high-ego prima-donas they're painted by popular media or clear-eyed business and cold-hearted businessmen, the effects of a star change can be just as dramatic.
A recent drama was the February 2003 suicide of prominent French chef Bernard Loiseau, reportedly caused when he heard that his Côte d'Or restaurant in Saulieu, Burgandy, would be downgraded from three to two Michelin stars. Behind-the-headlines news, though, pointed out that M. Loiseau had a history of bipolar disorder, and that he was already despondent because his business was failing. After the fact, Michelin announced that they were not intending to downgrade the Côte d'Or, and later new reports attribued the suicide to an actual downgrade by the Gault Millau guide.
1 - L'inspecteur se met à table, Rémy Pascal, 2004, Equateur, ISBN 2849900060.