Singapore’s own Michelin Star Fiasco of 2016

If you are even slightly interested in the Food Scene here in Singapore, you would have known that Singapore is about to have its own Michelin Guide, expected to arrive in the second half of this year… There have been mixed feelings by the skeptical foodies among us, and some food bloggers have also done up a list for restaurants that they think is worthy of a Michelin Star. But today, I am not going to do that, maybe on another occasion… What I want to discuss about in this article is whether a Michelin Star guide will do more harm than good for Singapore…

Singapore right now, is a extremely popular hub for both Business and Leisure, as evident by our Airport, one of the busiest in the world… and Tourism is one of the major contributors to our economy. We have always taken steps to attract visitors from all over the world, most notably, would be the Singapore Botanical Gardens, which has just been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and our two Casinos, one in Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and another in Resorts World Sentosa. But for me, whenever I visit a new country, the thing that is of top priority, is of course, FOOD!

Singapore right now has a very vibrant food scene, food from almost every cuisine from all over the world… but also, we have a great variety of low, middle and high end eateries! But honestly, when you come to Singapore, the most important tier of food you must investigate is the low end of the spectrum. In Singapore, our low end eateries would be our Hawker food, the national pride of Singapore… But, what I would really like to see is more Food Trucks in Singapore (like in California), that would be a great way to encourage more young people to join the F&B industry (We will talk about this in great detail in another article). Back to topic, our hawker food is unlikely to be featured in the Singapore’s Michelin Guide… A great pity, I must say, as this might discourage ‘slightly ignorant’ tourists from trying them out. A good Gastro Tourist, myself and my writers included, would go behind the scenes to explore a Nation’s food at all levels and budgets.

Honestly, in my travels and hunts for good food, I hardly ever go to restaurants with Michelin Stars, I would rather go for local people’s opinion and some other reputable food websites… One of which would be the Asia’s best 50 restaurants 2015 list… In this list, I have been to Le Mout once, which is number 26 on the list and serves Fusion French and Taiwanese Cuisine, and it is in Taichung, Taiwan… And Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck quite a few times, it is number 47 on the list, and it is in the Paragon Shopping Centre in Singapore. (As of publication) Both of them don’t have Michelin Stars, and yet they are on a very prestigious and renowned list, and they both serve great food in my opinion!

If I had to talk about my Michelin Star Restaurant experiences, I may have dined at a few Michelin Starred Mid-Range Causal Restaurants in my travels, none of them really blew my mind though… But, what I really can’t stand is the publicity a franchised Restaurant with a Michelin Star have. Let me explain with a well-known example, the popular ‘modern’ Dim Sum chain in Singapore and across Asia, Tim Ho Wan. Many of you probably know that the main branch in Hong Kong has an actual Michelin Star (I haven’t actually been to the main Tim Ho Wan branch in Hong Kong, I know of better traditional Dim Sum places to visit while in Hong Kong… But nevertheless, I heard the food at the main branch is quite good). But, I have been to Tim Ho Wan in Singapore, and despite the long queues at many branches… I honestly think their food is so-so only. But, the surprising thing is… A lot of people would agree with me, but why are there still long queues in some branches? Because, (and this is in my opinion)… the fans of Singapore’s Tim Ho Wan perceive the food in Singapore is of the same taste and quality of the Michelin Starred Branch in Hong Kong… And they probably think it is cool and hip (SUBJECTIVE) to eat this ‘Michelin-Star Standard Dim Sum’. I highly doubt the incoming Michelin Inspectors would agree…

Let’s sidetrack a bit… Here is a question for you, how do you judge who are the best Chefs in the world? Do you look at how well known they are? How many TV shows or Cookbooks they have? Chances are, you would say, ‘Oh, maybe how many Michelin Stars they have?’ Well, if you do a quick google search, you would find Joel Robuchon at the top of the list with 25 Michelin Stars currently (28 at his peak), and he actually has 2 restaurants in RWS, both contenders for a Michelin Star… But, chances are, only seasoned foodies and people in the industry would know who he is… Hmmm, that is quite odd, especially since he was crowned ‘Chef of the Century’. Just behind him, would be Alain Ducasse with 21 Michelin Stars Currently (that is his current peak), and he was the first chef ever to get 6 Michelin Stars, back in 1998. Anyway, 3rd place would be a draw between Gordon Ramsay (He peaked at 16, and he has a restaurant in Singapore, Bread Street Kitchen at MBS) and Thomas Keller (Only American Chef with more than 6) with 7 Michelin Stars each. 5th would be Heston Blumenthal with 6 Michelin Stars, he and Gordon Ramsay are both British Celebrity Chefs. So, among these 5 chefs, how many have you heard of? Maybe you should cut down on Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube and browse the other chefs sharing their recipes and tips on Youtube… Oh, by the way, stop comparing Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver (Who has 0 Michelin Stars)… They are both at opposite corners of the Culinary world!

Many people would say that, ‘Oh, the Michelin Guide would boost our Tourism Industry’, but to what extent? Singapore is already a World Renowned destination for food, how big of an impact can it make? Maybe, we could look at this from a different perspective, with the incoming Michelin Inspectors, the potential Restaurants might try to push the boundaries of their food to make it better, to impress the Inspector… But, does anyone else besides me, think that the upcoming Michelin Guide could just massage the egos of SOME of these chefs, and in turn, bring their already high prices higher, and start a ‘New Trend’ of EXTREMELY pretentious food? Honestly, if you are a great chef by nature, you don’t have to resort to extreme measures to prove ‘your worth’…

What’s more, where do these Michelin Food Inspectors come from? Well, they are anonymous and ‘lurk among us’ and… I am guessing, highly or maybe lowly paid (That is a mystery) by a Tyre company to try Restaurants out, and see if they are worthy of a ‘Tyre Star’. That doesn’t stop there, APPARENTLY, the Michelin Star Restaurants would be reassessed once in a while. A lot of Restaurants lose their Michelin Stars during these revisits due to ‘slipping standards’. Many World Renowned Chefs pride themselves with how many Michelin Stars they have, and can get quite torn when they lose their hard earned Stars… Most notably was when Gordon Ramsay’s Restaurant in New York lost not one, but both Michelin Stars at one shot, and the Celebrity Chef apparently broke down and cried… So, clearly, Chefs from around the world have a Love-Hate relationship with these Inspectors with ‘Refined Palette’… And to be honest, so do Food Bloggers and Critics, it doesn’t exactly look good when our reviews and opinions contradict those of Prestigious Michelin Food Inspectors… Credibility you see… I honestly think opinions and subjectivity is slowly, but surely, fading away in our culture and society. Oh, by the way, Michelin themselves have said that they are going to train and have local Food Inspectors… Right ok, that might cause a problem with being non-bias, do you think? Especially with local favourites and comfort food… Well, with the amount of power these people are going to have, it is a bit scary, isn’t it? Your words, thoughts and opinions will have the power to make World-Class Chefs cry…

Good food is, and will always be… Very subjective… Are you going visit a Restaurant just because they have a Michelin Star? If you ask me, in a country like Singapore, which is really known for its low and mid-range food… No, not really. Also, there have been some rumors that the Michelin Star Guide is likely to only be a competition for the Restaurants that are, in the Asia’s 50 best Restaurants list for example… That would be ‘interesting’, for well established Restaurants to battle it out to reassert their credentials for some reason, maybe an ego boost, as pointed out earlier.

In conclusion, I don’t know about you, but I am reluctantly going to be following the news about the our own upcoming Michelin Star Guide in Singapore… Of course, I still have to be well-versed with it to some extent, if not I can’t exactly call myself a Food Blogger right? Maybe, an arrogant one… Just to clarify, I am in no way saying that the Michelin Guide is useless or bad, in certain countries in Europe, like Italy and France for instance, it is very good and useful for Tourists, with so many High-End Restaurants and famous chefs around. But what I am effectively asking is, a Michelin Guide for Singapore would not fit in well into our current food scene and culture, maybe just maybe, when our food scene and culture goes through a transformation… It might fit in well, just not now…




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