Michelin MADNESS

For more than a century, the Michelin Guide has been the chosen yardstick for restaurants across the globe. But as with every other lists in the world that try to arrange or catalog the ‘best’ of anything in the world, the prestigious Michelin Guide is no less contentious.

For more than a century, the Michelin Guide has been the chosen yardstick for restaurants across the globe. But as with every other lists in the world that try to arrange or catalog the ‘best’ of anything in the world, the prestigious Michelin Guide is no less contentious.

ITS CONTROVERSIES include the thickly veiled cloak surrounding the judges and their questionable diligence in inspecting all of these restaurants, the rather preferentialism for luxurious French cuisine, although somewhat unsurprising as they are a French company, and also the inconsistent standards between a nation’s guide to another.

Yet, despite its controversies, we can’t deny that stakeholders love lists in general, not excluding the Michelin Guide. For the chefs, getting the elusive Michelin star could be a childhood dream come true and a highlight of their ascending careers. Some diners are obsessed with these lists as they see the restaurants as ‘landmarks’ that need to be stamped out on a passport.

Restaurateurs and tourism boards on the other hand love the Michelin Guide for the inflow of business that it can attract. Because of the endorsements of some of these advocates, namely the Singapore Tourism Board and Resorts World Sentosa, the Michelin Guide has finally arrived in Singapore, and they did not arrive without controversies.

I was there when the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide was announced at the Resorts World Sentosa, announced in front of a 500-strong crowd consisted of chefs, restaurateurs, the media, and the wealthy community who paid SG$450 just to be one of the first to hear the winners (and losers) of the night (it’s also quite ironic though how an institution that celebrates the best of transnational cuisine served a buffet that was absolutely horrible). Similarly with their other guides, Michelin were too kind to some and too cruel to a select few.

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Burnt Ends has been constantly gathering local and worldwide followers, and rightly so. Thus, with the amount of international recognition it has been receiving – No. 70 in the 100 World’s Best and No. 14 in Asia’s 50 Best – it’s perplexing how David Pynt’s BBQ joint was overlooked a Michelin star, yet casual places such as Putien or Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles received a star.

And what’s really the difference between the Michelin “Bib Gourmand” – recognizing restaurants that offer good food at cheaper prices – hawker food and a one Michelin star hawker food? What sets a Bib Gourmand Chicken Rice stall apart from a one Michelin star Bak Chor Mee stall? How do you even compare them side by side? Are Michelin including these hawker stall food into the one star category just to generate a buzzing debate?

I also can’t get my mind around how the 4-month-old Shoukouwa could get two Michelin stars. This is more of a logical inquisition so bear with me for a minute.

Shoukouwa is overseen by Chef Masakazu Ishibashi, who is also the executive chef of every Sushi Ichi restaurants all over the world – this includes the ones in Ginza, Jakarta, and the newly appointed one Michelin star branch in Singapore. My question is, how could Shoukouwa get two stars when Singapore’s Sushi Ichi only got one? And more astonishingly, how could Shoukouwa and Singapore’s Sushi Ichi get Michelin stars whereas the original Ginza branch, where it is theoretically in proximity to better ingredients, have zero star from Michelin?

I also have questions about how Osia or Forest could get Michelin stars? Or how restaurants in Resorts World Sentosa, one of the main sponsors of the Singaporean Michelin Guide, received a total of seven stars, whereas the Marina Bay Sands only received a paltry total of two stars (CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Waku Ghin)?

Chef André Chiang of Restaurant André was rightfully awarded two Michelin stars. Chef André was extremely humble and gracious after receiving the honor on stage, but you could also tell the disappointment in his voice. Why could that be?

Restaurant André has been the perennial representation of fine dining in Singapore for the last six years. It is constantly mentioned as the best restaurant in Singapore by the World and Asia’s Best list. I’m not saying that two Michelin stars is not an honorable achievement (it is the same amount of stars as Noma and Restaurant Frantzén, so it’s certainly not a bad place to be).

But by God, Restaurant André is definitely not on the same level as Les Amis, a fine Robuchon spinoff, or Odette, another fine restaurant that just opened six months ago. André is above them, and I feel his disappointment for getting the two stars that he received.

No matter what you think of the Michelin Guide, its influence is undeniable. With plans on launching a Seoul and Shanghai guide later this year, the list clearly refuses to slow down.

The Michelin Guide, however, should focus on celebrating a certain country’s exceptional talents and unique culinary offerings – something that citizens of the world might never find anywhere else. But with only about 30 percent of the stars given to local talents, one should ask, what was the point of this Singaporean Michelin guide? Why bother assembling a local restaurant guide that awards 70 percent of its recommendations to foreign chefs? And the vital question is, was Singapore even ready to have its own Michelin Guide?


Written by FoodieS August 26, 2016.

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