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How the Michelin Guide found star chefs in the pandemic

The most prestigious restaurant awards had to juggle lockdowns to pick the best dining spots around the world

Michelin introduced the 'green star' to recognise chefs who emphasise seasonal cooking and use of local suppliers. (Image courtesy: Istockphoto)

The Michelin Guide's restaurant inspectors had a trickier task than usual finding their noteworthy chefs of the year, rushing to get a seat at top tables after coronavirus lockdowns forced eateries to close for extended periods.

Revered as the bible of gastronomy, the Michelin Guide is on track to reveal its top French picks in January, after already releasing some listings elsewhere including in Spain and Japan, Gwendal Poullennec, its international director said.

"As soon as restaurants re-opened, the inspectors were the first on the scene," Poullennec said. They had to adapt in some cases, like when a restaurant needed a few days to operate normally, and returned to fully appreciate the offer, Poullennec added.

Known for their exacting standards, the Michelin inspectors' choices can be controversial, with some chefs fighting back in the past after losing stars. Some 3,236 restaurants globally now carry Michelin stars, up from 3,093 at the start of 2019.

The number of restaurant reviewers working for the guide is kept secret, although Michelin has disclosed people from 15 nationalities work as inspectors.

This year, the guide, first published in 1900, wanted to press ahead as a means of paying tribute to one of the industries hardest hit by coronavirus measures worldwide, Poullennec said. In France, seen by many as the standard-bearer for fine-dining, restaurants may only re-open on January 20 at the earliest, after being forced to shut since the end of October.

The Michelin Guide has had to innovate too, and has tried to foment an online following by publishing chef's recipes.

For the first time this year, it has begun to list recipients of a "green star" - recognising 164 chefs worldwide who emphasise seasonal cooking and use of local suppliers.

The French Michelin stars will be revealed on Jan. 18.

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