Fancy Food Guide Adds Sustainability Symbol to Highlight Green Restaurants

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Considered to be the highest award a restaurant can receive, the Michelin Guide's 2020 French edition now gives a nod to environmentally minded restaurants.

For those who take their fine dining very, very seriously, a new status symbol has been added to the century-old Michelin Guide for France. The revered publication, which awards restaurants a certain number of stars (if any) around the world, has been around since the early 1900's.

Originally created by the French tire company to promote travel via automobile throughout France, the guide's annual ranking of the world's fanciest restaurant is now as eagerly anticipated as the film industry's Academy Awards nominations.

Even today, the guide still retains its original focus on its mother country, France, and her thousands of restaurants and hotels. It wasn't until 2005 that the company released a U.S. guide, covering just 500 restaurants and 50 hotels in New York City and its boroughs. Notably, the guide isn't dedicated to long-winded restaurant reviews; rather, it relies on a comprehensive list of pictograms, and sometimes a line or two about cuisine specialties.

a red Michelin sticker is pasted on restaurant window

Peter Lindberg / Flickr /CC BY 2.0

There are, predictably, stars as the most coveted and important rating, ranging from just zero to three. According to the guide, "one star signifies a very good restaurant, two stars signify excellent cooking that is worth a detour, and three stars signify exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey." Tellingly, only 14 U.S. restaurants were given three stars in 2020.

The Michelin symbols range from a "notable cocktail list" pictured as a tiny mixed drink, to a hand with keys to represent valet parking, to a "patio parasol" image to serve as terrace dining. Just this year, Michelin decided to add a new symbol to its latest French guide: the green clover. According to Michelin's press release, the clover is intended to "promote the chefs who have taken responsibility by preserving resources and embracing biodiversity, reducing food waste and reducing the consumption of non-renewable energy.”

50 illustrated head shots of French chefs with green clover award from Michelin

Michelin Guide/Promo image

The clover, also called the "Sustainable Gastronomy Selection," was designated to more than 50 restaurants — a small proportion when you consider 3,435 French eateries were featured in the guide, but notable nonetheless. Three chefs in particular got a special shout-out for their green techniques: “Three-Michelin-starred Mirazur's permaculture gardens, David Toutain's collaborations with environmentally conscious producers and craftsmen, and Bertrand Grébaut's bio-waste recycling program at one-starred Septime."

It's not clear yet whether Michelin will extend these green clovers to other countries in their guides, particularly the United States. For now, they say the "sustainable initiatives of the first chefs with this distinction will additionally be detailed and highlighted on the various platforms of the MICHELIN Guide throughout the year, through the creation of various content. This will allow readers to learn more about the restaurants embracing sustainability and have a better understanding of the vision of the chef and the cuisine they will taste as they choose their dining experiences."

With reducing food waste one of the most important actions both individuals and global systems can and should take on, here's hoping this environmental award will inspire restaurateurs, chefs, and discerning gourmands to make more sustainable choices when it comes to dining out.