Apr 12, 2022 - News

Charlotte’s road to a Michelin star will be long but not impossible

plate food award

Illustration courtesy of Allie Carl/Axios

Charlotte needs to step up its game on many levels before a restaurant here is awarded a Michelin star, but it’s not out of the question.

Driving the news: Last month, I wrote about Fahrenheit’s new chef, who told me he wants to bring Charlotte its first Michelin star.

  • “I’ve done it before,” said chef Justin Loo, talking about his experience working at Nobu in Las Vegas, a two-time Michelin star recipient.

Yes, but: If it happens, it won’t be easy. “There is around a 0.5% chance of any restaurant here ever getting a star, no matter how great they become,” chef and owner of Counter- Sam Hart tells Axios. Hart has worked at and dined in many Michelin star restaurants.

Why it matters: A Michelin star is one of the highest marks of culinary excellence a restaurant can receive. Part of what makes them so special is how rare they are and how difficult it is to get one.

Context: Michelin critics are anonymous. “At the end of the day you don’t know, and that’s the mystery. That’s the cool thing,” Hart tells me.

  • Michelin has given some insight on its rating methods, but part of what makes the award so lucrative is the expertise and anonymity of its guides.
  • “The training to become an inspector for the Michelin guide is very rigorous,” explains Michael Fanning, a former senior executive at Michelin. “Someone who is going to do that is going to have some degree in hospitality, like a degree from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America).”

Backstory: Before the name “Michelin” was associated with gastronomy, it was a tire company in France. Michelin launched its first guide in 1900.

  • “The guide was really created for chauffeurs because at the time there were fewer cars on the roads,” Fanning says.
  • Following the guides’ success, Michelin created the star system in 1926.
  • The Michelin guide didn’t come to the United States until 2005. By then, the guides had formed into more than the marketing ploy they were originally intended for.
  • Today, receiving a Michelin star is a true marker of success in the culinary industry around the world.

How it works: A restaurant can receive up to three stars based on five criteria: quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in his cuisine, value for money, and consistency between visits.

michelin star

Data: MICHELIN Guide; Map: Baidi Wang/Axios

Michelin has guides in 35 countries around the world. Four of them are in the U.S.: New York, Chicago, California and Washington, D.C. Las Vegas was discontinued.

  • Recently, Michelin announced they’ll add a guide in Florida that will primarily cover Miami, Orlando and Tampa. More on that later. 

The big picture: Charlotte is no stranger to chefs with Michelin star-level experience.

  • Hart recently hired Alex Wnorowski, who worked at a three-star Michelin restaurant in Copenhagen, at Counter-.
  • Chef Elinn Hesse, who’s opening a gourmet gelato shop in Plaza Midwood, worked at a former one-Michelin star restaurant in New York called Betony.

What they’re saying: “Before you can speculate, Charlotte as a city has to continue to support arts, culture, and entertainment. [It has to have] reasons people would even want to visit the city in the first place,” says Hart.

  • Michelin guides don’t travel beyond their designated city/state. Hart says, for Charlotte to acquire a Michelin guide, it would need more than one Michelin-worthy restaurant. “And this is saying nothing about the talent, or skill of the chefs here in Charlotte,” Hart clarifies. He says Kindred, Bardo and Counter- are all examples of Michelin-worthy restaurants.
  • “People forget that Michelin is looking at the entire world, and not just this one country,” he adds.

The other side: Fanning, who was vice president of communications and public affairs for Michelin North America, and helped launch the Michelin restaurant guides in North America, lives in Charlotte now and doesn’t think it’s impossible to get a guide in the Queen City.

  • “Even though they’re hard to get, the U.S. … still has some of the best cuisines in the world,” Fanning tells me.

The Florida thing: While most guides are funded by Michelin, the Florida Michelin guide was created as a partnership with Visit Florida, the state’s official marketing department in charge of tourism.

  • Fanning says North Carolina’s state tourism board could help get a Michelin guide here. “It’s quite expensive to produce a guide for a given area,” he says.

The bottom line: “Awards and recognition aside,” Loo says, “the most important thing for us to focus on is continuing to create great food using the highest quality ingredients and to deliver the best hospitality experience that we can for our customers and the Charlotte community.”


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