If you've ever wondered what it was like to be an anonymous restaurant critic—somebody who is paid to go undercover at the finest dining establishments in the world and critique every bite—you'll definitely want to download the latest episode of California Now. In it, host Soterios Johnson sits down with a real-life Michelin inspector who helped determine which restaurants received stars in the Michelin Guide California 2019.
We called our guest "Mr. Inspector" and Johnson started him off with this hard-hitting question: Is your job fun?
"It absolutely is," Mr. Inspector said. "It's the best job I've ever had, which is why I've been doing it for almost 13 years now. No complaints. I do have to exercise a bit, but that's it."
When you're eating uni multiple times per week, wolfing down Wagyu on the regular, and sampling every morsel on 20-course tasting menus, putting on a few pounds is definitely an occupational hazard. We also wondered: How do you get into this line of work in the first place.?
"Most inspectors are selected from careers in food, wine, or hospitality," Mr. Inspector revealed. "We have chefs, we have restaurant managers, we have sommeliers, we have restaurant managers, hotel managers. So basically it's a wide various assortment of jobs, kind of all under the umbrella of hospitality."
And yes, these critics fill out a standardized form when rating a restaurant. "There is a report that we use," Mr. Inspector said, adding that they try not to take too many notes during a meal. That might blow their cover, after all. "Sometimes we are faced with a tasting menu that has 24 courses or however many. We may jot notes down for that, but luckily, you're usually given a menu at the end of that kind of meal. We describe each menu item in pretty lengthy detail and we give it a rating and then that will kind of attribute to the overall score of the meal."
The covert nature of this job, incidentally, is anything but an affectation.
"The anonymous inspections are one of the pillars of the Michelin Guide review process and guarantees that the inspector had the same experience as any other diner would," our anonymous insider added. "We're not going in saying we're from the Michelin Guide...so we're not receiving the best table or extra courses. We're getting treated just as in any other guests who would go ahead and make a reservation and just try to experience a restaurant for a night out."