MICHAEL ELLIS, THE MICHELIN GUIDE’S INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR
What does the notion of “communication" mean to you at the MICHELIN Guide?
It covers three things in my opinion. Firstly, the notion of communication between senior and junior inspectors: communication of a culture, of know-how... which are an integral part of our DNA. We do not have machines. We do not make anything. Our only wealth is the men and women who write our guides. Our unique heritage is this culture of taste, a product that we share with our readers. Then there is communication of the inspectors’ feedback from their visit after a lunch or dinner, what they encountered in the field at such or such an address, their discussions between professionals. The collegial approach to awarding Michelin stars is also an opportunity for comparing the various points of view of inspectors from varied backgrounds. Finally, there is the result of all this, our business. That is to say, the creation of our various guides, with the selection of the best restaurants in the 32 countries in which we now have a presence. In short, communication to our loyal readers, who trust us year after year, edition after edition.
How are MICHELIN Guide inspectors recruited?
We receive tens of thousands of unsolicited applications every year. It must be said that we are the only company that pays a full-time brigade of inspectors searching for the best tables in the entire world, incognito, as well as paying for their training. That’s well-known. So we receive a lot of CVs. Nevertheless, the majority are not suitable. Just because you love to eat at restaurants does not mean you can become a MICHELIN inspector. It is a demanding job, unique in the world, with two professional meals to be eaten per day, often alone, or 9 to 10 meals a week, about 250 to 300 meals each year. Very few are chosen...
What are you looking at initially?
We first look at their careers, focusing on hotel, cooking and sommelier schools. Then you have to have experience. We require several years in the food, catering or sommelier industries in particular. Candidates then go through interviews during which we evaluate if the person is compatible with our DNA. An interview conducted in the presence of the head of the country, other inspectors and myself.
What criteria are used? What are your values?
Abilities such as tasting and writing, a bit like a perfumer's nose. Presentation is also very important; you have to know how to dress... We also judge culture, the way you express yourself. We prefer discrete personalities to flamboyant characters. Our inspectors include men and women from around the world with an excellent understanding of flavors and gastronomy. After that, there’s the feeling... However, since I'm the head of the MICHELIN, I can tell you that we have almost never cheated.
Once you pass the interview stage, the practical work begins. Candidates are then sent to a restaurant with a senior inspector for a "table test". The two will then order the same dishes and compare their thoughts. We then ask the candidate to consider 5 criteria that we evaluate when judging the quality of a meal: firstly, talk about the quality of the products, food is not good food without good products which have been carefully selected, this goes without saying; secondly, the cooking skills, which distinguish the amateur from the professional; then comes the harmony and balance of flavors; the personality, we must find the individuality of the chef in his dishes; and lastly consistency, starter, main course, dessert, we must find the same level of commitment, the same quality at all stages of the meal. This must be maintained on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... whatever the day of the week, the quality must be the same. Using these 5 criteria, we evaluate whether the candidate has the ability to express what is happening on his palate in writing, both from a technical point of view and an emotional one... Not everyone can do this, trust me! And if the candidate succeeds, and only if, then he will have a chance to join us. His training can then last between 6 to 18 months depending on the experience and maturity of the candidate.
Did you say training?
It’s quite straightforward. Firstly, it involves travelling around France, its tables, to perfect their knowledge around ingredients and chefs... before setting off to travel around the world. We also organize oenology classes. We also visited Maison Bordier in Brittany to see how their butter is made. We may also visit producers of fruits and vegetables to see how they are grown. A plate, a dish in a restaurant is, above all, the transformation of raw material, whether sautéed, grilled... It is therefore important for our inspectors to know about ingredients, where they come from, how they are made.
And, once you become an inspector, does the training continue?
The best ongoing education is to continue to travel around the world. That's why we send them abroad, to the United States, Singapore, Thailand... Our inspectors regularly rotate from one country to another. This exposes them to other cuisines, other tastes, other gastronomic cultures... and helps them perfect their own culture.
Could you give us some figures? How many inspectors are there around the world? At what age do you recruit them?
No. Sorry. These are secrets. I can only tell you that, before joining us, our inspectors already have solid experience. Another observation, once they have joined us, they often stay with us for the rest of their professional careers
How do you consider recent gastronomical developments in their training?
As for the new cuisines that have appeared in recent years - molecular cooking in Spain in the 1990s, Nordic cooking in the 2000s or cooking with wood fires in England - again, the best training is to send our inspectors to chefs who practice and use these new techniques, to let them gain inspiration. Our major strength is that we also rotate our inspectors regularly around the countries in which we have a presence. It's a formula that has worked well, I believe, since our beginnings, so we see no reason to change it.
What, in your opinion, are the qualities necessary to become a good inspector?
Our inspectors are primarily obsessed with taste. There is of course some pleasure in what we do, we must be sensitive to the emotions of a dish to know how to find the soul of a chef, his personality, but there is also a major analytical part. You must be able to concentrate on the evaluation criteria: appearance, the quality of the produce, the chef's skill, etc. A bit like a sommelier doing a wine tasting. Our inspectors are professionals first and foremost. We are “critics”, in the noblest sense of the term, but we also give back. I also believe that if we are not obsessed with the taste and able to communicate this passion in our Guides, we will not become a good inspector!
MICHELIN, THE GOAL OF COMMUNICATION
Michelin’s great industrial adventure started nearly 125 years ago and the communication of knowledge has always been an essential element. Michelin also represents a fantastic human adventure and the Group is mindful of communicating both the knowledge and experience that perpetuate the Group’s hundred-year-old values, based on excellence and respect.
In the early 20th century, Michelin opened its first schools for employees’ children. Since then, training and education has been deeply rooted in the Group’s DNA, representing 6% of the payroll. Beyond merely teaching, training is about transmitting a certain approach to things, the idea that everything can be achieved in a better way than before, whilst illustrating that innovation does not mean turning your back on the past.
The group embraces this responsibility through its Michelin Technical College in Clermont-Ferrand. It was founded in 1948 with the aim of perpetuating the company’s expertise and identifying young talented students. In 2019, in partnership with other regional business leaders and the college in Clermont, Michelin will inaugurate Campus Entreprises that will take over from the Michelin Technical College. A training hub for industry, it will provide free training in industrial maintenance and production to 250 to 300 students a year, from tenth grade to degree level. A genuine showcase for tomorrow’s industrial professions, the goal is to match qualified people to specific business requirements.
In addition to this initiative, the group is increasing its mentoring program throughout the world, with nearly 7,000 mentors working hard to pass on their passion. This method, which is very rewarding for employees, communicates Michelin’s corporate culture and guarantees the Group’s longevity. Through partnerships with colleges and universities, the Group is omnipresent and is developing an ambitious
apprenticeship policy with the aim of transforming 50% of its apprenticeships into permanent roles within the company.
Sharing the group’s passion for excellence and innovation, this communication is also evident in the MICHELIN Guide. Every new inspector must shadow a more experienced inspector first. There is tremendous pride amongst the older employees as they pass on their passion for fine food. This communication is also reflected in how the inspectors write the MICHELIN Guide. Those inspectors are also “recruited for their ability to communicate in writing what they experience on the plate.”
For Michelin, communication is also a way of sharing its culture, values and legacy, both inside and outside the company. This is the role of l'Aventure Michelin, the exhibition inaugurated in 2009 in Clermont-Ferrand. Open to the public, l'Aventure Michelin is an opportunity to discover the history of our pioneering and highly principled brand, one that is keenly focused on innovation and quality. Today, Michelin draws its legitimacy from this historic perspective and it is a source of pride for employees, giving meaning to the present. Today’s actions are part of a legacy built on success and challenges.