Michelin stars: a blessing or a course?

Michelin stars. Wikimedia, 2014

 

When we think about the Michelin star, we usually picture the whit puppet that is made by tires and the connection it has to the award of stars that are given to fancy restaurants. Who would ever thought that one day that a star would be awarded for the first to a local food stall in Singapore in 2016?  Although, most of us don’t really know what is really about and what French people wanted to do when they started with it.

The book in red cover was indeed born in 1889 to inspire motorists to jump on their bikes and travel somewhere. It was the Michelin brothers, founder of already the distinguished tire company, that created a free guide containing insightful information not only maps about places where to change tires and pump petrol, but also accommodations for the night and spots to eat (Michelin Guide, n.d.).

Layout of first guides. Wikimedia, n.d.

The idea behind the stars came several years later, when the brothers decided to improve the booklet with more restaurants and accommodations and sell it to the public. Today the Michelin guide is one of the best-sellers worldwide, has sold more than 30 million copies and rates more than 30,000 businesses in over 30 different countries.

The mission of the Michelin guide has always been to “foster a culture of travel and eating out”, but has it always been like this, or the concept has changed throughout the years? As we can see from the 2007 Pixar movie of Ratatouille and the high-class kitchen, shows the famous chef Auguste Gusteau that loses his mind when his fancy restaurant. Many don’t know that this cartoon was based on a real-life story, based on the life of chef Bernard Loiseau, the most famous chef in France that committed suicide after acknowledging that he was going to lose one of his three stars (Admin, n.d.).

According to the guide (n.d.), in order to gain a star, a restaurant must satisfy five criteria regarding: the quality of products, the mastery of flavors and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef that completes the dining experience and finally the consistency in reports from the visits that inspectors give.

Several renowned chefs such as Daniela Soto- Innes questions the integrity of the Michelin guide and what kind of “great dining experience” they are looking for when they inspect a restaurant, especially because for three stars award it requires a white tablecloth and crystal glasses (Repanic, 2018). Mcconnell (2020), has also added that the appellation of “Michelin star” has been defined as the hallmark of fine dining.

What happened back in 2016 is that for the first time a hawker stall located in Singapore has received his first Michelin star by offering Hong Kong Soya Sause Chicken Rice and noodle at $1.50 (Michelin guide,2016). Everyday even before the

Singapore – Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Flickr, 2019

nomination to the Michelin guide, hundreds of people line up to get the starred food at an unbelievable price. Winning a star meant for Mr. Chan that the food he provides is of good quality and it is worth a stop and getting this kind of reward is not easy as it seems, since it has been awarded to fee restaurants around the globe (Editorial staff, 2020).

The stall didn’t have white tablecloth nor used crystal glasses for its customers, on the contrary, the place does not have place to sit at all! The idea of giving the Michelin star to a street vendor startled people around the world, however, the Michelin guide underlines that it doesn’t only target fancy restaurants (Michelin guide, 2016). After this case, if before was unthinkable to receive some sort of award, other food stalls started to obtain the Michelin stars. Only in Thailand, the Michelin guide, has rated 83 food stalls that are worth a visit (Michelin Guide, n.d.). The guide has few years back started to move and study the Asian countries and what they have to offer, and in some cases the same Asian countries have funded the Michelin guide in order to be mentioned in their book. This is the case of South Korea and Australia that paid respectively $1.8 (to start with) and $600,000. Also, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has supported financially the Michelin guide for $4.4 million USD.

On one hand it has been showed how street vendors have benefit from the awarding of the stars. It can be seen as since the first star in 2016, Mr. Chan in Singapore has managed to expand his business both to Thailand and Melbourne. Even the once “World’s cheapest Michelin- star restaurant” has moved from its 20-seater in Honk Kong to 46 franchises all around the world (Ibrahim, 2020). However, places like the Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Singapore have still maintained the same stall over the years even with the presence of a Michelin star, not even changing the menu or its prices.

On the other hand, the executive director of the World Food and Travel Association Erik Wolf, does not really believe on the impact that the guide can have con the behavior adopted by people when traveling, due to the fact that according to a survey conducted by the same association, 69% of the people that traveled in 2016 were influenced by family and friends and later from review websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor without mentioning the Michelin guide at all (Houk, 2018). Moreover, the “crab omelets queen” of 75 years old which received an award back in 2017, has stated that if before was happy to receive a star, she now has a feeling of annoyance and wants to give the star back. The main reason behind this, is the fact that lot of people go there with the only purpose of taking a picture with the owner that uses

Crab omelette queen. Flickr, 2018

aviation glasses to cook and to to actually consume the food. Furthermore, she has declared that having won the award did not mean for her a change in her wealth rather than a continuing inconvenience regarding the purchase of raw material (Ritschel, 2018). Till today she is the only hawker in Bangkok that has received a Michelin star. Always in Honk Kong, due to the increase of Michelin stars awarded, the rent has increased of 120%, and many chefs would not want to accept the star fearing that they would end up just like the omelets queen in Bangkok.

Asian countries are experiencing westernization of their diet, and reasons why this is happening might be related to the growth related to the economy and he income of the populations, that are separating from the simple diet of cooking with fruit, vegetables, rice and oil replacing it with more western meals (FAO, 2004). Thailand and in particular Bangkok are particularly known for their street food, that surround the city both day and night since it is integrated in Thai culture going from the well-known “pad Thai” to the classic rice noodles. Even though the government has tried to restrict these food vendors and the sale of food, it is impossible to for Thai people to not go out and get a bite to eat from them, just because it is part of their culture, it’s cheaper than cooking for yourself and you can find whatever you are in the mood for (Thai Property group, 2019).

However, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration doesn’t agree with the locals, in fact since 2014, after the coup, it started shutting down all the unauthorized street vendors because they could put at risk the safety of both locals and tourists. These new changes were implemented since lots of people showed problems related to congestions and therefore the lack of regulations while handling food, the increase of rats in the Bangkok area, sewage system blockages and last but not least issues related to the sorting of garbage. In Bangkok different opinions bump into each other since if on one hand street vendors are extirpated from the streets of the city, on the other hand the clubs that can be found on Khao San Road, have experienced a positive effect, with people spending more time and more money in night clubs (Lutze, 2020).

The Asian countries try to preserve its culture and traditions, in fact at the end of 2020, the Hawker Culture of Singapore, was inscribes as part of the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural of Humanity. The Hawker Culture is the identity of the people and nation of Singapore and represents the heart of the life in the country, because people every day go to hawkers to have a meal and bond with over people over food (National Heritage Board n.d.).

I would like to leave the readers with a question: is the Michelin guide, after all, the trouble?

 

Bibliography:

Editorial Staff. (2020). What is a Michelin Star and How Do You Get One? Everything to Know. Retrieved on March 22nd, 2021 from https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/what-are-michelin-stars

FAO. (2004). Westernization of Asian Diets and the transformation of food systems: Implications for research and policy. Retrieved on Monday 22nd, 2021 from http://www.fao.org/3/ae127e/ae127e00.htm

Houck, B. (2018). The High Price of a Michelin Guide. Retrieved on Monday 22nd, 2021 from https://www.eater.com/2018/7/18/17540672/michelin-guides-restaurants-tourism-bangkok thailand-south-korea-singapore-funding

Lutze, T. (2020). Is Bangkok’s street food culture dying a slow death?. Retrieved on March 28th, 2021 from https://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/news/food-news/bangkok-street-food-18323

M.admin. (n.d.). The Suicidal Chef Who Inspired “Ratatouille”. Retrieved on March 22nd, 2021 from https://knowledgenuts.com/suicidal-chef-who-inspired-ratatouille/

McConnell, A. (2020). How Michelin Stars Are Awarded to restaurants. Retrieved on Monday 22nd, 2021 from https://www.tripsavvy.com/about-michelin-stars-1329159

Michelin Guide. (2016). 5 Myths About The MICHELIN Guide Debunked. Retrieved on Monday 22nd, 2021 from https://guide.michelin.com/en/article/features/5-myths-about-the-michelin-guide-debunked

Michelin Guide. (2016). Behind the Scenes: The world’s first Michelin-starred hawker stall. Retrieved on March 22nd, 2021 from https://guide.michelin.com/en/article/people/behind-the-scenes-with-the-first-michelin-starred-hawker-in-the-world-singapore

Michelin Guide. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved on March 22nd, 2021 from https://guide.michelin.com/th/en/about-us-th

Michelin Guide. (n.d.). Street Food. Retrieved on March 28th, 2021 from https://guide.michelin.com/en/th/restaurants/street-food

NHB. (n.d.). Hawker culture in Singapore. Retrieved on Monday 22nd, 2021 from  https://www.nhb.gov.sg/what-we-do/our-work/sector-development/unesco/hawker-culture-in-singapore

Repanich, J. (2018). Why Daniela Soto-Innes Isn’t Concerned with What Michelin Thinks. Retrieved on March 22nd, 2021 from  https://robbreport.com/food-drink/dining/cosme-atla-nyc-daniela-soto-innes-interview-eg18-2798991/

Ritschel, C. (2018). Bangkok street vendor with Michelin star wants to give it back. Retrieved on Monday 22nd, 2021 from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/bangkok-street-vendor-michelin-star-raan-jay-fai-give-back-a8150341.html

Thai Property group. (2019). Street food – The Thai eating art. Retrieved on March 27, 2021 from https://www.thai-property-group.com/en/streetfood-art-thailand/

 

 

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