A few thoughts on restaurant ratings:
Since 1933, the Michelin Guide has used a rating system of 1 to 3 stars to connotate what the guide considers to be high quality cooking at restaurants. Opponents of the guide's system criticize the vagueness of the categories' criteria, a lack of definition to the stars. I would argue that it is precisely this vagueness of Michelin's categories is what makes them more sound in regards to judging matters of taste.
In an increasingly specialized world, where we know more and more about a particular skill set or field yet less and less about all other subjects besides our particular niche, we see more and more "Top 10 lists" and other specific numerically ranked ratings of all sorts. Top 10 Cities to Live Under a Bridge, Top 10 Gluten Free Lipsticks, Top 10 Gas Station Bathrooms in Missouri. This is a symptom of a culture increasingly concerned with rank (due to it's lack of expertise in what was once considered general knowledge), yet can you rank food in such a manner?
For instance, take the wine world's Robert Parker and his Wine Advocate's 1oo point rating system. Much criticism has been weighed against this system for over categorizing something as subjective as wine. What is the criteria that differentiates between a 94 point wine and 96 point wine? If there is a 2% difference, is that perceptible, and if it is perceptible, is it relevant?
I direct more ire and frustration towards a critique system that uses a "Top Insertnumberhere" numerical hierarchy, such as the World's 50 Best Restaurant List published by Restaurant Magazine, than towards Michelin's 1,2,3 system. Is El Cellar de Can Roca 21 restaurants better than Restaurant Vendome? Why is L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris at #12 when none of his other restaurants make the list? Why is Heston Blumenthal's earth-shatteringly important The Fat Duck listed four positions below his own satellite london hotel restaurant? Has anybody even actually eaten at Faviken?! It's in fucking Sweden for godssake! It's a whole other blog post.
But I digress. Personally, Good, Better, and Best is how I judge most things, and that is essentially what the Michelin system has been set up to define. Do I think that some 3 star Michelin restaurants are better than others? Yes, but that might just reflect my personal opinion. And while others would argue otherwise, I do believe that there is a relevantly defined difference between 1 stars and 2 stars, and 2 stars and 3 stars.
And at the end of the day, Michelin itself is merely a representation of a few people's opinions. What I appreciate here is that Michelin doesn't attempt to rank restaurants numerically beyond 1,2,and 3 and that that lack of definition is precisely what makes the rating more true. It acknowledges that there is such a thing as good, superior and superlative cooking, but it does not attempt to further categorize something that by it's very nature is ever changing and simply a matter of taste.
To the same end, I would also argue against the idea that Michelin's rating system is rigid and biased in the type or style of cuisine that makes the top notch, and hence, is creatively stifling as it forces chefs to adopt their views on food. To further the point, I have an example. Admittedly, Laurent Gras's cooking at L2o was a cuisine that was not my cup of tea. That is merely my personal preference though. That does not prevent me from objectively understanding that Laurent used the best possible product, executed his cuisine consistently, and was deeply passionate about his work. Most significantly, Laurent's food was highly creative, and clearly his own. A unique expression of an individual, expressed through cuisine.
I find this to be true of restaurants of the 3 star Michelin category, and I perceive this to be the reason why it is the only category that lists the chef's name with the restaurant. Gerald Passedat, Joachim Wissler, Eric Pras, Shuzo Kishida, Sven Everfeld, Emmanuel Renaut, Heston Blumenthal, Nadia Santini, and Bernard Pacaud all present very different styles of cooking; the one unifying similarity (aside from price point perhaps) in regard to the food is that they all represent a very unique style of their own. Contrary to the feelings of Michelin's detractors that Michelin corners chefs into cooking in a specific manner to please the guide, Michelin values individuality and creativity. And as a chef, I find that encouraging rather than stifling.