Clarification: In an earlier version of this article, the mathematical expression “2.43 times ten to the eighteenth power” was incorrectly expressed. The article has been updated.
If your flavor of road-trip food leans more toward grilled foie gras wontons than Panda Express chow mein, then start packing your suit jacket and stretchy pants. Verve Search, a content marketing company in London, has mapped out a celestial culinary adventure: the shortest possible route to all 159 Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States. The 3,426-mile journey includes both lengthy stretches (the 2,111-mile drive between Bouchon in Yountville, Calif., and EL Ideas in Chicago) and frog hops (Per Se and Masa, both in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center). James Barnes, an outreach specialist working on behalf of Orbitz, explained the math and madness behind the Michelin Star-Spangled Road Trip.
What inspired your team to map this route? Why Michelin restaurants, and why the United States?
We were intrigued by the prospect of plotting the ultimate road trip for fine diners and figured that Michelin-starred restaurants would serve as the perfect proxy, given that Michelin stars are widely regarded as the top accolade for a restaurateur or chef. The fact that there are fewer than 200 Michelin-starred eateries in the U.S. and that they’re primarily clustered in four locations (California, Illinois, Washington and New York) renders this a more realistic endeavor than first meets the eye.
How did you come up with the route?
To calculate the shortest route between the full set of restaurants, we would need to discover the distances between each pair of restaurants and find the ordering that results in the minimum distance covered. Even if there only 20 restaurants, the number of potential orderings would be 2.43 times ten to the eighteenth power. It would take an unfathomable amount of time to compute all the variations.
This is where the work of Randy Olson comes into play. The data scientist [at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Biomedical Informatics] first employed his mathematical wizardry to create a search path that could find the titular character in “Where’s Waldo.” He then applied the same logic to map out the ultimate American road trip, which involved visiting 50 historical landmarks spanning the Lower 48 states.
The algorithm that underpins Olson’s work belongs to a class of “genetic algorithms” whose purpose is to find a solution that, while potentially not perfect, can get extremely close to unearthing the optimal route. The algorithm, when applied to our Michelin road trip, works by picking a random route through the full set of restaurants before altering it slightly and calculating which is quicker. This process continues until no quicker routes are found.
How much time will a road tripper need to complete the route, and what is the best approach to the journey?
The Michelin trip begins at Commis in Oakland, Calif., and ends at Hirohisa in New York City, so clearly you’d be better off reversing the order if you live closer to the East Coast.
Assuming you had a bottomless appetite, allowed for four hours between meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), took one hour to complete a tasting menu, dedicated eight hours to sleeping and averaged 60 miles per hour on highways and 30 miles per hour on all other roads, the trip would take 53½ days to complete. Granted, that’s a very unrealistic expectation, so for anyone that values his or her waistline, a more conservative estimate would be around the three-month mark.
How many calories would the traveler consume?
A few years ago, Zagat Buzz enlisted the help of a nutritionist to calculate the calorie count of tasting menus and found that the average across five top-tier restaurants was 2,252 calories. Using that as a rough estimate for all the restaurants in our trip, you’re looking at 356,478 calories — or 660 Big Macs.
What’s next on your mapping agenda?
Sticking with the foodie theme, we’re interested in mapping a road trip that navigates the best places to sample regional delicacies across the country. So where should you go for the best Philly cheesesteak, Chicago deep-dish pizza or any other meal inextricably tied to a location? The difficultly lies in figuring out how to select which eatery has the best reputation for producing each dish, but that’s also part of the fun!
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