We sat down with one of our Thai MICHELIN Guide Inspectors for a candid Q and A session to discover the details behind one of the dining industry’s most mysterious jobs.
Becoming a Michelin Inspector and Training
Q: What did you do before you were a MICHELIN Guide Restaurant Inspector?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Prior to joining Michelin, I worked for over 14 years in the F&B industry doing various roles.
Q: How did you become an inspector?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: I applied on the Michelin website… Once they contact you back, Michelin will conduct a series of interviews before tasting sessions to make sure you are qualified.
Q: The anonymous and independent inspection team is what separates Michelin from the rest of the restaurant guides. Can you tell us what qualifications are required to become an inspector?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Apart from the usual qualifications, knowledge about food and experience in the industry – which many people have – I would say, the most important thing Michelin looks for is passion for cuisine, as inspectors are deeply immersed with dining, food and research every day.
Another key trait to success is to be observant and have the ability to remember small details along with discipline and good planning.
Most important of all is keeping an open mind as well as being ready to learn and embrace the differences and diversities in all cuisines and cultures.
Q: Can you share with us the details of Michelin’s training after you’ve been hired?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Of course… For me there were a series of training sessions in both Thailand and abroad to ensure we understand how the process works; along with things aimed at expanding our horizons to prepare us for new culinary experiences.
It’s Michelin’s intention to continuously nurture the skills and talents of the inspection team and the training sessions encourage exchange of knowledge and cultures of inspectors from around the world.
The training sessions are conducted by highly professional inspectors who have worked as Michelin inspectors for more than 30 years.
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Working as an InspectorQ: What’s the toughest part of your job so far? Is there something you will never forget?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: The hardest I would say is the first week… I had to adapt myself to new eating habits, travels and report writing, not to mention the immensely intensive training.
Q: Do the people around you know what you do for a living?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Very few, not even my father knows. I would say the only people that know are my siblings who I trust and am very very close to.
Q: Apart from eating at the best restaurants in the world what’s the best thing about being a MICHELIN Guide Inspector?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: The best thing about being an inspector is the chance to work with world-class food tasters/critics. There are some legends on the Michelin inspection team.
Before joining Michelin I was merely a reader who, like most of you, could only try to imagine how these inspectors work. Now that I am a part of the team, it’s an once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won’t ever forget. It has given me the opportunity to explore the culinary world in a way that no other profession has.
The Michelin Inspection ProcessQ: How does the MICHELIN Guide select a restaurant to inspect?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Our team conducts research first before deciding on a selection of restaurants to visit. The research comes from all sources such as suggestions by our readers, emails, social media, review sites and publications.
Each team member can also nominate restaurants that we deem interesting or possessing distinctive qualities such as chef’s skills, tastes, ingredients, uniqueness and consistency.
Q: To get a Michelin Star is considered the highest and most prestigious honour for a restaurant or chef in the industry. Can you tell us what you look for when awarding Michelin Stars?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Our selection criteria has been the same for many years and is universally acknowledged and made public on the website (see selection criteria here).
This being said, with the delicate nature of the award, we pay great attention to every detail and document every process from discovery to selection.
We do not just award stars based on one tasting or inspection. It requires repeated inspections to make sure the restaurants truly possess the level of quality and consistency worthy of our stars.
After the inspection results, the inspection team conducts a ‘star meeting’ where we discuss and debate the selection before final stars are decided to restaurants.
Q: Does anyone have the last say on who gets stars and who doesn’t?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: No, not one particular individual. The last say is decided during the ‘star meeting’ and final decisions are made with the consensus of the whole team. No one in the inspection team possesses more power than the others – the process is very democratic.
Q: Do you inspect all restaurants?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: This is almost impossible in a city like Bangkok, with restaurants opening every day and scattered everywhere. This is where the research and organisation is important, as we try to cover as many as possible especially the ones that we see as potentials.
Q: For restaurants that already have stars is there a repeated inspection every year?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Yes, but it depends on the schedule of each inspector; it may not always be the same inspector that revisits.
Q: When you go for an inspection, how do you choose what you eat?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: It’s impossible to eat every item on the menu. What we do is try to order different dishes that cover different techniques and ingredients so we can thoroughly evaluate the skills of the chefs.
Q: Food at some restaurants can be complex and full of details, for example Japanese omakase or tasting menus. If the inspectors cannot take notes, how do you manage to compile an in-depth inspection report?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: In this day and age, it’s a lot easier than before to note details. It’s very common for people to take pictures of food in restaurants... As inspectors we do the same to help us write the inspection reports.
Q: When you go out for an inspection, how many people do you go with? Do the restaurants suspect your identity?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: I hope not! It depends, sometimes we go alone, sometimes we go together as a team. We try to behave like normal customers as much as we can.
Q: Are there any interesting trends today that the MICHELIN Guide pays attention to?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: Yes, I think there are two. The first one is local cuisines, which is important as it’s the culture of the country that the guide is operating in.
The second trend that’s very important is sustainability. The food industry can play a role in caring for the environment too.
In the case of Thailand, we have now started to cherish local ingredients that were neglected in the past and search for substitutes for imports to reduce food miles.
Q: What are your three favorite dishes?
MICHELIN Guide Thailand Inspector: For me, I would say mee krob – it’s hard to make, full of details and requires a high level of finesse making it very hard to find a good one. Next would be som tum, the popular choice of all Thais and then kanom jeen, but this one is very personal.