How to spot the mystery Michelin Men

WASHINGTON — Washington’s first Michelin restaurant guide debuted last week with much media hoopla, but it is a much bigger deal for D.C. chefs than for the rest of us.

In the 2015 Bradley Cooper movie “Burnt,” chefs and restaurant owners are obsessed with the mystery Michelin Men inspectors, and restaurateur Tony, played by Daniel Bruhl, instructs the dining room staff on how to spot them:

“No one knows who they are. No one. They come. They eat. They go. But they have habits. One orders the tasting menu, the other orders a la carte. Always. They order a half a bottle of wine. They ask for tap water. They are polite. But attention! They may place a fork on the floor to see if you notice,” Bruhl’s character says.

Is there any truth to that?

“No; they don’t drop a fork or a knife on the floor,” Michelin Guide international director Michael Ellis told WTOP.

“They do tend to be often middle-aged gentlemen who are well-dressed and polite. One will go to the bar and order a drink and wait for the other one. One will order a tasting menu and the other one will order a la carte; that’s absolutely true,” he said.

And they do order a half-bottle of wine when it’s available. Ellis said the inspectors eat out five days a week, so there is alcohol consumption to consider.

Michelin also claims its mystery inspectors (sometimes they’re women too) are also just better at eating than the rest of us.

“Many of them are former chefs, and they also have a unique ability to taste. They have the right number of taste buds where they should be on their tongues,” Ellis said.

What about that claim that they order tap water?

“We don’t make them drink tap water. Maybe in the U.S., but certainly in Europe they order bottled water,” Ellis said.

The movie did get most of it right. Michelin worked with the movie studio Miramax in scripting Michelin-related scenes in “Burnt.”

In the inaugural DC Michelin restaurant guide, 12 restaurants were awarded one or two Michelin stars. No D.C. restaurant was awarded the coveted three stars. Only 13 restaurants in the U.S. currently have a three-star rating from Michelin.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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