What It’s Like to Be an Anonymous Michelin Guide Inspector

Our exclusive interview with the anonymous chief inspector for Vancouver’s Michelin Guide.

Tonight (October 27, 2022) is Vancouver’s first-ever Michelin Guide reveal, and this morning I chatted with one of their anonymous Vancouver inspectors. The chief inspector, to be precise. Upon asking my first question (“What’s your background in the industry?”) and receiving my first answer (“I can’t tell you that”), I realized exactly how seriously Michelin takes their judges’ anonymity: it’s spy-level shit. 

The inspector’s evasiveness might, in part, be due to the fact that the non-anonymous and extremely diplomatic Michelin Guide international director Gwendal Poullennec was also on the call (you won’t catch me revealing company secrets in front of my boss). Even so, I was able to get some answers to the questions I’ve been dying to ask. Here’s how it went. 

(Note: I’ve decided I’m calling the inspector Anthony for the remainder of this story—based on nothing other than he really sounded like an Anthony). 

What qualifications do you need to be a Michelin inspector? 

While Anthony couldn’t tell me his personal background, he said that Michelin inspectors typically have at least 10 years of professional experience in the restaurant/hotel sector. He specified that the roster of inspectors includes “former chefs, former front of house managers and former sommeliers.” 

But the secrecy is another important factor. “The anonymity is paramount to success,” added Anthony, emphasizing the fact that I could never be a Michelin judge because I am incapable of shutting up. 

How do you choose which restaurants you consider for the Michelin Guide? 

“We draft a list of restaurants that we research based on local media and from local chefs,” says Anthony. Local media—that’s us! We’re not saying that Michelin used Vanmag as a resource for finding the best restaurants in the city, but we’re not not saying it. Additionally, both Anthony and Poullennec emphasized the “boots on the ground” nature of the research: once they’ve landed in a city, they do learn more about the culinary scene just from walking through neighbourhoods. “I’ve also found great places to eat by sitting at a bar and striking up a conversation with someone,” Anthony adds. 

Note to Anthony, if you’re reading: careful about admitting things like this, it might result in your secret identity being discovered. After all, there’s nothing less Vancouver than being friendly. 

Do your friends know what your job is? 

Does Anthony tell his buddies that he’s an accountant? Could there be a Mr. And Mrs. Smith–style foodie movie made about two Michelin judges? “You know who you can trust, who you can’t trust,” says Anthony, revealing basically nothing. “But of course there is family, and loved ones, but it’s something that we keep very close to ourselves.” 

So no, it’s unlikely that your spouse is a secret Michelin Inspector (although if they are away for months at a time and weirdly judgmental about your cooking, maybe look into it). But your neighbour might be. Or your spikeball partner. Everyone’s a suspect. 

Has anyone ever suspected you were a Michelin inspector? 

“Not really,” says Anthony (but it’s not a “you have to tell us if you’re a narc” situation—he could easily lie if asked). 

Do Michelin inspectors always dine alone? 

Short answer: no. Anthony says that while they do often dine out alone, inspectors will also take into account the usual clientele of the restaurant and mimic it if possible. “We do try to recreate—if it’s the type of restaurant where there are only couples or only groups, we might tag along with another inspector,” he shares. “But we do try to remain as inconspicuous as possible.” 

Does eating always feel like work to you? 

“When you’re evaluating food, it’s hard to turn it off… I think it’s impossible to turn it off,” says Anthony. “But I wouldn’t say it’s always work. I’m always evaluating, but it’s not always work.” The inspector adds that he personally loves dining at the Bib Gourmands (the “great food at great value” spots, where individuals can get two dishes plus a drink or dessert for $60 or less). So it’s not all silver and white tablecloths. Speaking of that: 

Does the ambiance or restaurant design factor in to your opinion? 

Apparently not (although it is very tough to believe that even a Michelin judge can be unaffected by something like this). “When we are looking at an award, we are looking solely at the food on the plate—not looking at the glassware, not the server’s uniforms, the stars are awarded solely for the food,” says Anthony. 

Okay, so what does a Michelin inspector look for in a restaurant? 

“At the star level, there are five criteria were looking at,” says Anthony. “The quality of the product, the harmony of the flavours, the mastery of the cooking techniques, the personality of the chef and the cuisine and the consistency between each visit.” He continues: “If I find a meal that I think is deserving of a star, we will send another inspector to that restaurant, and it should be consistent.” 

How is the final Michelin star decision made? 

Is it up to a vote? Do all the judges get on a Zoom call and yell at each other? Gwendal Poullennec answers this question himself: “There’s an open discussion with the team.” I press further, asking if the team often disagrees with each other. His answer: “We have great discussion.” 

Okay, Gwendal. That’s not particularly specific, but I’ll take it. He adds: “If we do not all agree, maybe we need to wait and see, or maybe we need to send other inspectors.” 

Vanmag will be reporting live from the 2022 Vancouver Michelin Guide announcement event on our social media, and watch for our announcement post at 8:30 p.m. PST on October 27. You can stream the event yourself at 7:30 p.m. here.