Michelin Adds a New Destination in Asia

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But no three-star restaurants for Bangkok this year.

For weeks now, there has been no other subject of conversation in Bangkok’s food scene. Gossip, hearsay and speculation surrounding the launch of the world’s newest Michelin guide reached a frenzy. “There won’t be any three stars,” whispered some. “There will be five two stars,” affirmed another with absolute certitude. “Of course X (Y or Z) will get a star. They deserve it.” Would Gaggan, the best restaurant in Asia according to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for three years in a row, be rewarded or snubbed by the red guide? Would chefs David Thompson and Prin Polsuk’s departure from world-famous Nahm, Bangkok’s worst-kept secret, hurt the restaurant’s chances of reaching stardom? Would shophouse eccentric Jay Fai be rewarded for her lavish use of crab and river prawns in otherwise pedestrian wok dishes?

This afternoon, all was revealed. In the 30th Michelin city in the world, no restaurant was deemed worthy of three stars; three were awarded two stars; and 14 received one. The list, considered by observers to be very conservative, seems to be a reaction to criticism voiced in other cities where stars may have been distributed a bit too liberally, diluting the value of a star.

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“It is good that people can understand and appreciate what we are doing,” said Chef Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun of Paste. Since the announcement that she would be serving one of the main courses at the evening’s black-tie gala dinner, there was little doubt that she would be recognized by Michelin. The only suspense was how many stars would she earn. The answer: her modern takes on historical Thai recipes wowed the inspectors to the tune of one star.

Another shoe-in was Henk Savelberg. The only chef in town to have already won four stars in different restaurants in his native Holland, the Michelin veteran was very candid. Over a classically French lunch in his restaurant a few days prior to the announcement, he confided that he was losing sleep over it and it would be “very, very disappointing” if he were overlooked. He wasn’t and takes home his fifth star in as many establishments.

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The belle of the ball was Supinya Junsuta, better known as Jay Fai or “Sister Mole” for the prominent mole on her neck, whose eccentric look and killer wok skills honed over 30 years in her old-town shophouse attract crowds who are willing to queue an hour or more for her crab omelette. Known for the ski goggles she dons as she fries every dish, she charmed the crowd at the announcement ceremony, saying that her heart was pounding from the first step she took into the room.

The guide also awarded 35 Bib Gourmands half of which are for street food. Named for Bibendum, the company’s jovial mascot also known as the Michelin Man, a Bib recognizes “exceptionally good food at moderate prices”. There are also 64 Michelin Plates, a designation the guide introduced this year “where inspectors have discovered quality food”. For some, that could be the democratization of Michelin. For others, it sounds a bit like damning with faint praise.

Three stars:
None

Two stars:
Gaggan
Le Normandie
Mezzaluna

One Star:
Bo.lan
Chim at Siam Wisdom
Elements
Ginza Sushi Ichi
J’aime by Jean-Michel Lorain
Jay Fai
L’atelier de Joël Robuchon
Nahm
Paste
Saneh Jaan
Savelberg
Sra Bua
Sühring
Upstairs at Mikkeller


Written by Vincent Vichit-Vadakan Photographs by Vincent Vichit-Vadakan December 7, 2017.

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