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What's in a star? Here's what it takes to get one of cooking's biggest honors

Earning a star is about consistency, flavor, and care.

WASHINGTON — Washington, D.C. is now home to four more Michelin starred restaurants: Imperfecto, Reverie, Albi, and Oyster Oyster are now honored with what’s considered one of the top culinary distinctions in the world.

That makes 23 Michelin starred restaurants in the District – plus one in Washington, Virginia.

It turns out, winning the coveted award is a game of consistency, flavor, and care.

RELATED: 4 DC restaurants awarded Michelin stars

THE QUESTION:

What does it take to earn a Michelin star?

OUR SOURCES:

WHAT WE FOUND:

It was 1889 in Central France. The Michelin brothers wanted to promote sales for their tire company by encouraging people to hit the road. The little red book, according to The Michelin Guide, started as a way to encourage drivers to hit the road, helping them navigate car maintenance and hotels and yes, restaurants.

By the 1920s, the guide began to award stars, and they established criteria for one, two, and three star rankings the following decade.

A century after the first star was awarded, it’s known as a top culinary honor.

“It's a career maker. It's a game changer for us," said Carey Tang, co-owner of Rooster & Owl, one of Washington, D.C.'s Michelin-starred restaurants. It earned its star in 2021, and retained in in 2022. 

"And it's that ultimate recognition of the hard work that our team is doing every day. And what an incredible honor.”

Michelin inspectors visit restaurants in California (San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. 

“We were awarded the star first last year after shutting down for the pandemic, and with all of that out of our control, we focused on the only thing we could control, which is cooking. So we focused on the cooking and kept at it," said Carey. "And to get that star again this year was was icing on the cake.”

RELATED: 5 DC restaurants awarded Michelin stars for the first time during a pandemic

Michelin inspectors are anonymous and independent.

"We know that they come in. We don't know who they are. We don't know when they come, but we know they come a lot," said Carey. "And so you just provide that same experience as best you can to every single guest every guest could be that inspector. And hopefully we can we can do right by them and stay true to what we want to do."

RELATED: James Beard Awards return in June, several semifinalists from DC area

Michelin Guide outlines 5 criteria inspectors are trained to look for:

1. Quality of products
2. Mastery of flavor and cooking techniques
3. The personality of the chef represented in the dining experience
4. Harmony of the flavors
5. Consistency between inspectors’ visits

A panel interview of Michelin inspectors revealed several of them have to visit a restaurant two or three times before determining if the restaurant is worthy of the honor.

“We taste every plate every evening to make sure that it all has that wow factor that inspectors and guests are looking for, and we try to maintain that as part of our operation," said Carey's husband Yuan Tang, Rooster & Owl chef and co-owner. "We tried to utilize local products, and seasonal ingredients so we can showcase what's around here, as well as highlighting the best quality produce in season.” 

Michelin typically means stars, but it doesn’t have to cost you the moon. The “Bib Gourmand” list is Michelin’s selection of top restaurants with a lower price point–around 40 bucks for dinner in the United States. D.C. has 36 of those restaurants, serving up anything from Turkish food to fried chicken to creole to ramen.

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