My goal is to dine at every 3 Michelin Star restaurant in the world.
The catch: I can only spend $100 per restaurant.
Airfare, hotel, train, bus, cab, and meal; I only get $100. To go to Japan, to rural France, or Napa valley, and then back home to Chicago. Oh yeah, and to pay my tab, also.
And, most importantly, I share my methods and tips with anyone who cares to read them. These are literally the best restaurants in the world, and their reputation is that of snooty, ivory tower fortresses that are impossible for normal folks to eat in. I'll show you how for less than most people spend on one month's heating bill.
In 1900, the Michelin Guide invented the category of food tourism reviews. Pressed to sell more tires by giving people a reason to travel, Michelin created guidebooks for travelers unfamiliar with neighboring regions of France and gave them a reason to hop in the car. Even a mention in the guide is considered an achievement, and the Guide calls out exceptional restaurants using a star system:
- Bib Gourmand: "Good cooking at moderate prices"
- ✪ One Star: "Very good cooking in its category"
- ✪✪ Two Stars: "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"
- ✪✪✪ Three Stars: "Exceptional cuisine; worthy of a special journey."
The Michelin Guide isn't one monolithic document; they're a series of local guidebooks written about cities, regions, or countries. Over the years many have argued that the organization doesn't seem to have very tight international standards- many deserving restaurants in the US are ranked low, while for some reason Hong Kong and Macau books give three stars to very mediocre restaurants. Sitting on the shelf, I can see that they don't even use the same exact color of red to color their book covers. So, some merit there.
- $100 per restaurant. For plane tickets, taxi rides, hotel stays, food, and everything else.
- Drinking a beer at the bar doesn't count. The tactics have to get me a full meal. Lunch counts, though.
- No lying, cheating, or stealing. There are plenty of sketchy people who complain about wait service, send food back to the kitchen, or otherwise disrespect the hard work of the restaurant for a cheaper meal. None of my tactics are about screwing the owner out of a few bucks- every piece of advice I offer must be ideas I would proudly discuss in front of the chefs themselves.
- I review each place I visit. I'll keep those reviews at www.threestarepicure.com.
- Each trip I take has to inspire others to take a #threestarchallenge. If I'm not getting others excited to take on what I've learned, I'm failing.
- Not every tactic must be "something for nothing." Especially when it comes to airline miles, hotel points, and other reward systems, it's okay to embark on tactics that involve shifting my spending. For example, if a power company offers me 10,000 American Airlines miles to switch to their services, I'll take it (even though the power won't be free, obviously).
HOW TO START
1. Have at least okay-to-good credit.
2. Realize that some opportunities require shifting the budget to take advantage of opportunities. A lot of my tactics have to do with ways I direct my spending to maximize the point or mile benefit.
3. Be flexible with how you travel. Sometimes there aren't any award nights stays available at any hotel and I have to CouchSurf. Few of these ideas are obvious, easy, or straightforward. But, they’re all totally above-board (and in fact encouraged by the airlines, hotels, and restaurants I talk about).
Every trip to a restaurant requires:
- A reservation 📋
- A flight ✈️
- A place to stay (usually a hotel) 🏨
- Ground transportation (Lyft, Uber, subway, etc.) 🚙 🚇
- A way to pay for the meal 💰
To get under $100, most of those will have to be free to or close to it. Lots of great resources for acquiring points and miles already exist, but few of them do a good job describing how to get started or what's important, and quickly spiral into jargon about airline alliances and spending restrictions.
The simplified version of this is:
Open Credit Cards or Activate Incentives → Get Points/Miles → Book Flight, Hotel
While in parallel:
Book Reservations → Plan for your meal
There are interesting caveats to each step, but that's it in a nutshell.
I'm currently 35, live in Chicago, Illinois, and have a huge passion for points, miles, wine, and fine dining. I have an equally strong lifelong passion for finding the easiest way to do really complicated things that everyone thinks is stupidly impossible. I love writing, my two poodle mix dogs, hiking, and running. When I'm not traveling to a new part of the world I'm often on a dog beach, at my sommelier's class, or plotting my next trip :).