Culinary Documentary ‘Three Stars’ Shows How Chefs Play the Michelin Game

Fall is the most exciting time to be a food fanatic. It’s the season when big chefs roll out their new projects, when the networks drop their most exciting TV shows, and when Michelin releases its guides to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Despite the fact that these lists are sometimes completely baffling, the Michelin rankings — one to three stars, awarded to typically high-end restaurants — are obsessively tracked by international gourmands. And for anyone who wants a primer on Michelin madness, the 2010 documentary Three Stars offers a compelling look at the people whose success and failure depends on these mercurial rankings.


The film visits nine high-end kitchens around the world — including Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain; Jean-Georges in New York City; and Le Meurice in Paris — to see how chefs play the Michelin game. It’s clear that all of these teams, especially those at restaurants in remote locales, rely on the accolades the guide provides to fill their dining rooms night after night. But many of the chefs express shades of resentment toward their symbiotic relationship with Michelin. “It would be a professional disgrace if our guests only came here for the stars,” the soft-spoken Tokyo chef Hideki Ishikawa says at one point in the film.