Bibendum, a tubby white cartoon man made of tires, made his annual voyage to America last week and awarded stars to 57 restaurants in New York City. Bibendum is not, from the look of him, someone you would trust as the dread magistrate of gastronomy. But he is the mascot for Michelin, the company that essentially invented the concept of rating restaurants, and has always been the most important standard in the restaurant world. Whether it remains so — and whether it should — is open to question.
There’s no doubt, though, that in terms of power and influence, nothing has ever come near the Michelin guide. The guide, which was first published in 1900 and given away in the early days of motoring to promote auto travel, told French travelers where to eat by way of star rankings indicating quality. One star was good if you were nearby, two deserved a little detour and three was “worth a special journey.”