Saturday, June 02, 2007

What criteria is used to rate the "star value" of hotels?

Hotel star ratings have been around for decades. "Five stars" means doves serenade you in the shower. "One star" translates into vibrating beds and a $5 deposit on all ice buckets. In short, the more stars, the better. But beware the rub. Many different rating systems exist in the U.S. Choose the wrong one and you could be in for a sleepless night.Nearly all major travel sites have their own ways of ranking hotels. For example, there's no definitive answer on whether the Super 8 in Sioux City merits one star or two. Expedia says two. Orbitz says two. However, the rebels at Priceline say one. It all depends.You may be best off using AAA's system. Their official magazine explains "some online services are notorious for handing out stars liberally," while rankings from AAA and Mobil have (according to AAA, anyway) more stringent requirements.No matter where you go, or what system (if any) you use, keep in mind that one man's palace is another man's pit. That should help you minimize the unpleasant surprises. Happy travels!

How did the chef's hat originate? Does it serve a purpose?The chef's hat, or "toque blanche" (French for "white hat"), has been around for more than 400 years. Back in the 16th century, artisans (including chefs) were among the "free thinkers" who were often persecuted, imprisoned, or executed because of their views. To escape this treatment, some chefs hid in monasteries and wore the same type of clothing as the priests, including tall hats. However, chefs wore gray, while priests wore black. But there are other theories regarding the hat's history. One source states the hat may have evolved from the stocking cap ("casque a meche") worn by French chefs throughout the years. The color of the casque a meche indicated the chef's rank.Sometime in the mid-1800s, chef Marie-Antoine Careme decided white was a more appropriate color for toques as it indicated cleanliness in the kitchen. Careme also believed the hats should be of different heights to indicate rank. Cooks wore shorter hats than chefs. Reportedly Careme's hat was 18 inches tall.Interestingly, the number of pleats in a chef's hat is also a status symbol. Many toques have exactly 100 pleats, supposedly the number of ways a chef can prepare an egg.