Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

November 15, 2012

American takes helm of Michelin Guide

SAN FRANCISCO — Something new is in the stars for the Michelin Guide — the French restaurant reviewing institution is getting an American accent.

Colorado-born Michael Ellis, who took over the job early this year but made his debut U.S. tour as ambassador of the guides this fall, is the first American to head the Michelin Guide.

The idea that an American would be put in charge of "this bible of French gastronomy is kind of a big deal," says Colman Andrews, editorial director of TheDailyMeal.com. "The Guide Michelin is such a French institution, it would have been unthinkable even probably 10 years ago to think that an American would ever run it."

Another big deal: Ellis' challenge of finding a way to keep the guides relevant, and solvent, in an eat-and-tweet world.

As Ellis pointed out during a recent interview on a foggy morning along the San Francisco waterfront, "There's a lot of noise out there."

Founded in 1900 by brothers and tire makers Edouard and Andre Michelin, the Michelin Red Guide listed places to get gas, food and other necessities to encourage motorists to get on the road, a good thing for the tire business. In 1926 the company introduced its star-rating system for restaurants and in time being a one-, two- or three-star Michelin chef became a byword for quality.

But though having a high Michelin ranking can be a significant boost to a restaurant's takings, none of that revenue has been going to the guides, whose main source of revenue has been the sale of printed books.

"Paper products are not a growth industry, I'll put it that way," said Ellis.

Last year, the Financial Times reported the guides were losing millions of dollars annually. Company officials don't divulge internal figures, but say they've made significant financial changes since then.

Ellis has a number of other changes under consideration:

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