Discover the history of one of the world's most iconic and influential authorities on restaurants and fine dining.
In 1961, two French food enthusiasts began a magazine series based on their 'flâneries', weekly strolls around Paris that would lead them to an unknown restaurant or a marvellous drink in a small bar.
Henri Gault and Christian Millau worked for the evening paper, Paris-Presse – Gault was a senior reporter and Millau was one of his editors – and their series, Weekend Walks, quickly became both popular and influential. In it, they recognised the ways in which the world was changing after the austerities of World War II, that the French way of life was becoming more casual, faster-paced and more open to outside influence – and that traditional French cuisine, with its elaborate preparation, rich sauces and multiple courses, was giving way to a new style, one based on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, lighter cooking and experimental techniques.
Following on from the success of their column, in 1962 the duo’s guide to Paris, Le Guide Juillard, was published. It, too, captured the spirit of the times. Both cheeky and authoritative, the book listed the best of everything in the capital, from hotels and wine merchants to bookshops, pet shops and interesting walks. Little by little, Gault and Millau worked their way to financial independence, and, in 1969, they launched their own monthly magazine, called GaultMillau and devoted to food and wine. They started with a blank slate, throwing out the template of bourgeois expectations that had been put in place when the great chef Auguste Escoffier recodified the French food business at the end of the 19th century. Gault and Millau went on the road right across France, open to the new, seeking out the best. They were revolutionaries, throwing bombs at the haute cuisine that had dominated the best French tables for centuries, and they dubbed the new style ‘nouvelle cuisine’, a phrase that would enter the lexicon of food lovers around the world.
In 1972, Gault and Millau published their first independent guide to French restaurants. Setting aside the usual elements of restaurant reviews (the location, the decor, the etiquette of the establishment), the Gault&Millau guide focused on what really mattered: the taste and the presentation of the food and the imagination of the chef. The guide was an instant success, soon selling more than 150,000 copies a month. The rest, as they say, is history. Gault&Millau’s witty, modern style made established guides look passé, and it soon earned a loyal following. Today, Gault&Millau is one of the most trusted brand names in Europe. Its restaurant and wine guides are definitive: authoritative, rigorous and independent. Restaurants are scored out of 20 points, and points are awarded according to the ‘ten commandments of nouvelle cuisine’. Established in the 1970s, when the style was formalised by the great chef Paul Bocuse, the formula remains in place today. It proscribes overcooking and unnecessary sauces and seasonings, and prescribes high-quality ingredients, expert and innovative techniques and the scientific principles of good nutrition.
Specifically, points are awarded for the quality and freshness of produce, the creativity and professionalism of presentation, the overall harmony of the menu, the timeliness of service and the restaurant’s consistency of performance. Comments about service, price and atmosphere certainly make it into the write-up, so readers can judge whether the establishment will match their mood. However, the awarding of points is purist, and therein lies Gault&Millau’s special standing in the eyes of both food lovers and the restaurateurs who cater for them. Gault&Millau reviewers are subject to a further seven-point code of ethics, designed to ensure scrupulous independence and fairness. They remain anonymous, for instance, and pay for their meals in full. They must also keep abreast of the latest innovations, and their performance is evaluated regularly. Gault&Millau also hasn’t rested on its considerable laurels. Since the 1980s, it has slowly expanded across Europe, into Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. In each country, it takes account of local tastes and traditions, while adhering to the rules that have made it an arbiter of excellence. It also publishes specialised wine guides by region, and it keeps ahead of technology, with interactive websites and apps. What’s new remains always in its sights.