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Michelin Guides: A Century In The Making

Understanding the evolution of the prestigious Michelin Guides, plus a Michelin restaurant at the top of its game.  

Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin Guides CEO (c) Florent Aceto

The first Michelin guide was published in 1920 by the Michelin brothers, who were in the tire business, hoping to get their clients to drive further for their dinner to boost demand for tire replacements.  

Today it commends over 15,000 restaurants and, more recently, some 350 with Michelin green stars, the sustainability accolade. Billionaire speaks to Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin Guides CEO, who was appointed international director of the Michelin Guides in 2018, leading a global team of Michelin inspectors and managing the 32 editions of the prestigious red — and perhaps ironically, given its beginnings, now green — guide. 

How have things changed in recent years? 

My first concern — obsession, really — was to focus more on sustainability and sustainable practices. With my team, we opened the debate, made countless observations of how sustainability is perceived and embraced, and spent a lot of time exchanging with chefs. There was clearly a demand from the client side to see sustainability as well as the storytelling around local producers, ancient vegetable varieties, and slow food. That is how the idea of a green Michelin star was born. 

What is a green Michelin star? 

It is a way to highlight the commitment of chefs and their teams. It can take many forms from supporting a local ecosystem of producers to creating a dedicated vegetable garden or fighting for diversity or inclusion. Chefs found new bearings in these ‘unwritten green guidelines’ and all started looking at the best practices around them. Many chefs mentioned that obtaining a green star completely changed their clientele, not to mention highlighted the importance of working with artisan producers and small-scale suppliers. 

Does the green star have a clear impact when a restaurant receives it? 

Yes. First, it changes the way the menu is conceived and described. The need for absolute transparency from the produce to the seasonality, transportation, waste management means that we evaluate everything. 

Does this mean that chefs have reassessed their role? 

In the past decades, chefs started spending less time in the kitchen and more time presenting dishes to clients. Local agriculture was often not supported and producers were often anonymous. Today, producers have become notorious for their produce, their story is told, and their names are even credited on the menu. Chefs are also embracing their terroir. Many have bought land to start their own vegetable garden. A chef like Bruno Verjus, for example, relies on exceptional produce and simply magnifies it: his art lies in the produce. 

How do gourmets and clients see it? 

The gourmet’s attitude has also shifted. While demanding, they are more flexible and open-minded about menu changes due to seasonality. They are also keen to hear local stories. We are moving away from globalised recipes and products, towards more simplicity. A new generation is on the rise that prefers a healthier, more authentic, balanced, and vegetal approach. Overall, quantities have been reduced to the benefit of quality. 

You lead a global team of Michelin inspectors. What is your vision? 

We work with inspectors who are open-minded. They must recognise the best expression of gastronomy wherever it is orchestrated. We go off the beaten path to celebrate the cuisine of Cyril Attrazic in Aubrac, for example, but also of rising talents in Argentina or Mexico. The result is a collective vision, the sum of many professional visions. Our commitment is to always broaden our views, look for new destinations and food expressions. 

What about the Mexican edition you recently unveiled? 

The food culture in Mexico is colossal; a world-class playground for gastronomy. Just think of the importance of corn, chocolate and potatoes in the world today, which all originate in Mexico, you understand that the influence of Mexican cuisine. 

Has the kitchen changed as a workplace? 

Yes, I feel there has been a revolution. There is an augmented reality in the kitchen. Chefs welcome and integrate younger talents in their teams. Diversity is also on the rise. The kitchen has become a much humbler place: teaching but also sharing, learning, working with others. 

You have recently launched the Green Keys in relation to hospitality. 

Hospitality has been a pillar of the Michelin Guides since the last century. We just wanted to highlight hospitality for what it stands for — service, sense of place, art de vivre and gastronomy. We wanted to highlight regional addresses, put the emphasis on exceptional addresses that are well worth the trip. Far from the urban congestion, hospitality has a deeper impact on guests, connects them to nature, offers a deeper immersive experience. It is about pressing pause, breathing in, contemplating a landscape, making one for the seasons and the local terroir. Our first selection embraces addresses that stand out for their simplicity and authenticity. 

Billionaire speaks to an outstanding new Michelin-starred restaurant, Geosmine. 

Géosmine is led by young chef Maxime Bouttier (c) Delphine Constantini

A lovely two-storey restaurant with a green façade and large windows nestled in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, Géosmine is led by young chef Maxime Bouttier, a perfectionist who leaves nothing to chance. Bouttier has worked for a long list of sought-after Michelin chefs and restaurants. 

Behind the tiny kitchen counter, Bouttier’s eyes scan every square centimetre with a fierce attention to detail. I like keeping the essential taste of produce,” says the chef whose favourite amuse-bouche is a warm rillette cromesqui, a tribute to the rillette he used to share with farmers, still hot from a copper caldron.  

Servings are a ballet of colours and textures that keep hosts on their toes. The juice that acts as a prologue mixes carrot juice, French kumquat, roasted chili oil and lemon juice. It is accompanied by a savoury trio: a Banka trout (from the Basque country) tartlet with grated raw broccoli and fish eggs; a buckwheat puff pastry grissini best dipped in a cream of black garlic and the signature cromesqui. A raw scallop from Normandy is smoked and accompanied with the last celeriac of the year and the citric touch of a homemade kosho. Then comes a slice of foie gras prepared with beef fat and ginger, paired with cime di rapa fermented in satsuma mandarin juice; flame-grilled, the dish is served with a bitter citrus cream, a paper-thin slice of lardo, a thick jus and fresh herbs. A true delight.  

A raw scallop from Normandy, smoked (c) Lauren Dupont

The chef starts improvising a new dish in front of us. “I want you to taste something,” he says, pulling out a piece of tuna belly he has been smoking for a week in olive wood infused in fat. Bouttier slices it into thin pieces, pulls a large imperfect ceramic plate, composes a rosace and sprinkles the dish with bronze fennel, oxalis, salad burnet, vanilla oil, roasted chili oil and kimchi oil. The plate looks like a true work of art. “The tuna-belly dish will be on the menu in a few days,” he adds.  

Sommelier Vincent Glaymann pairs each gastronomic ‘tableau’ with a well-researched wine selection, travelling across French regions and their specific terroirs all the way to Sicily or Friuli, but also Greece, Austria or Germany. Glaymann is passionate about rare bottles emanating from small domains and confidential vintages directly sourced from winemakers. The result is awe-inspiring and diverse. Textures, colours, bitterness and acidity are at play, adding surprising layers to the chef’s grammar. 

This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Longevity Issue. To subscribe, click here.