We hear about it all the time. Some chefs make a career through achieving one Michelin Star, then two stars, then three. Sure it brings fame, wealth, and a reputation wherever you go, but how difficult is it to actually earn a Michelin Star? 

What exactly is a Michelin Star?

Michelin stars are a form of restaurant rating, dubbed from the Michelin Travel Guide (which was created by the owners of the Michelin tire company - yes, tire company - in France). It is often said that with a Michelin star, you become a star yourself. And who wouldn't want that?

This guide was first published in 1900, with its purpose in showing road travelers where to find lodging, restaurants, and gas stations (like these restaurants in Chicago). Michelin stars themselves did't appear until over 20 years later when the Michelin owners hoped to incentivize people to buy more tires by showing them all the cool places they can go.

What does it take to earn a star?

I know what you're thinking-- if Michelin stars were created to sell more tires, how could it possibly depict the true quality of a restaurant? It's actually evolved to a very secretive, exclusive system of rating. Everything is anonymous - restaurants don't know when/if an inspector is coming. And he/she expects to be seated on time, served well, and receive stellar food.

No one knows just what it takes to earn a star, but some chefs contend that having a spotless kitchen, efficient staff, and French-inspired cuisine can put someone in the running. This ambiguity also plays into the reputation of the stars themselves.

Critics of the star system claim it is inherently biased, favors French restaurants, is way too vague in its requirements, and is out of touch with modern food trends. Nevertheless, even having one star under your belt can skyrocket your fame to new heights.

Life After the Star

Upon earning a Michelin star, chefs expect a massive increase in customer activity and media spotlight. The chef is often given opportunities to expand his/her restaurant, appear on TV, write a book, and anything else a successful individual could have the opportunity to do.

This fame comes at a price, though. Once a chef earns one Star, he/she is expected to earn another, and another. This can take years, even decades, to accomplish. Everyone working with the chef is under more pressure to meet or exceed expectations because there is a new and honorable reputation to maintain. 

Famous Starred Chefs

Many of the most decorated chefs aren't TV personalities. Alain Ducasse, for example, has a whopping 18 stars. Some household names, like Gordon Ramsey, have earned stars. Ramsey himself has 6 stars and Thomas Keller has 7. Michael White is one of these chefs as well.

However, it is important to note that not every chef wants a Michelin star. The sheer pressure of maintaining the reputation of a starred restaurant, the debt incurred, and the foregoing of personal goals of the creative-minded for something more institutionalized is often not worth the recognition. Furthermore, the star isn't a physical thing - it's just an award, an opinion of sorts. The star life isn't for everyone, but the opportunity for anyone is up in the air. It that's what floats your boat, go for it and be a star.