There’s a hidden trend driving the food world – and (for once) we’re not talking food trucks.
In September, Chef Thomas Keller announced a new partnership with BMW of North America and his storied flagship restaurant, The French Laundry, in Yountville, California.
The partnership enlists a fleet of BMW ActiveHybrid 7’s, valued at more than $100,000 each, that will be offered to select diners as part of the restaurant's concierge service.
The announcement came just a few months after The James Beard Foundation announced its own partnership with the luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz - also citing dining as the number one hobby of its consumers. Every year, the foundation awards the best chefs and restaurants in America in what is popularly dubbed as the “Oscars of the food world.”
“The Mercedes-Benz partnership with The James Beard Foundation was such a natural fit, since MBUSA’s owners care about the finer things in life and Mercedes-Benz has supported golf, tennis and fashion with fervor to mirror its customers’ priorities,” said Lisa Holliday, the company's Manager of Brand Experience Marketing.
“It was only natural to partner with the James Beard Foundation; given the fact enjoying good food and travel are important elements to enhance our owners’ lives.”
While the general appreciation for the finer things in life is certainly a factor in the link between cars and cuisine, what is really driving these unusual coalitions of automotives and fine dining is more than sheer luxury - their histories are in tune with one another, dating back to the turn of the twentieth century.
After outfitting the first automobile with pneumatic (or air-filled) tires in 1895, the brothers Michelin, André and Edouard, decided to publish an accompanying gastronomic guide for this newfangled auto adventure.
Five years later, in preparation for the 1900 World's Fair in Paris, the Michelin Guide was published, in order to help navigate drivers to good eats in Paris, around the French countryside and eventually beyond.
“We produced this little guide, obviously giving drivers all the information they needed to know about the tires - how to inflate their tires, how to change their tires and everything," said Jean-Luc Naret, the French director of the Michelin Guides.
"We gave them this little guide free, so people could actually enjoy driving - know they have the security of the road but at the same time, know where to stop in the village.”
Michelin's original restaurant rating system, which is still in use today, even reflects this motivation of road travel in its descriptions - three stars described as “worth a special journey” and two stars “worth a detour.”
Looking stateside and fifty years later, the Mobil Travel Guide, now called the Forbes Travel Guide, came into play.
Perhaps known best for vehicle motor oils, the Mobil Oil company created its own star-rated guides in 1958 after the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 established an interstate highway system. The guides were meant to inspire people to hop into their car and explore the country on these brand-new highways, all while recommending the best places to eat.
Then in 1963, the American Automobile Association, or AAA, entered the road food fray by adopting its own formal restaurant ranking system - even though they had began inspections of restaurants in 1937 without standardized classifications.
After all, road warriors have to eat too - and that doesn't have to mean filling up on a combo meal off Exit 72.