(This column was written by me for a Continual Assessment back in mid-August, and it just comes full circle to the first article I wrote last year, Singapore’s own Michelin Star Fiasco of 2016. Apologies for the sudden lack of content, I have been really busy with schoolwork, and I am once again, flying solo on my blog! I am still looking for writers to join me, click here if you are interested to find out more!)
The guide is in its 2nd edition, and I am still unconvinced by it, for the second time in a row.
Back in June, the results of the 2017 Michelin Guide Singapore were announced at the Fullerton Hotel. No real surprises, the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle in Chinatown and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle hawker stalls kept their Michelin Star.
Disappointingly, the Michelin Inspectors found no new hawker stalls worthy of a star.
The other restaurants that got one or two stars are relatively well-known to be good, and they range in cuisine and price point. The only restaurant that got three stars is a fine dining French restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa owned by Joël Robuchon, who has 28 Michelin Stars, the most of any other chef in the world.
The Michelin Guide has long been accused for having a bias towards high-end French food and chefs, and it appears the accusation is here to stay.
The Michelin Guide Singapore is owned by the French tyre company Michelin in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board. Restaurants are assessed by independent and anonymous Michelin inspectors, and Michelin pay for all their meal assessments. The restaurants are judged under multiple criteria, including attention to detail and taste.
So, with the Michelin Guide Singapore in its 2nd edition, where do we go from here?
I remember when it was first announced back in 2015 that the Michelin Guide was coming to Singapore. I would be lying if I said I was not a little intrigued. A prestigious guide, awarding the best restaurants around the world with a star, the equivalent of an Oscar in the food world.
Chefs who have been awarded Michelin Stars are treated like celebrities, including my favourite celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, who currently has 13 stars. For many of them, Michelin Stars are a point of pride and recognition for their hard work.
The first time I ate at a Michelin-starred restaurant was in 2015, in Tokyo. It was a restaurant called Nakajima, serving sardine set meals at 800 Yen (approximately S$10), and it was delicious.
That restaurant was one of, if not, the cheapest Michelin-starred Restaurant in Tokyo. This city has over 200 restaurants with Michelin Stars, the most among any other city in the world. Paris is in second place, with just over 70 of them. Now, as impressive as that may be, I could make the argument that a Michelin Guide will not be useful here in Singapore.
Singapore is a country well-known for its food, making it an attractive stopover for Gastro-tourists, where food, any kind of food can be found here, at any budget. This reputation has existed for years, as Singapore is a melting pot of different races and cultures, all bringing their food into this small city-state.
Chef, author and television host Anthony Bourdain is a frequent visitor of Singapore, and he had this to say about our street, or hawker food.
“You know, most cultures, most places, they treat street food like a problem to be solved. But for me, it’s the number 1 reason to come to Singapore.”
Now, in a city where it can be crossed by car in under an hour, where everyone speaks English and the possibility of a bad meal when you queue for it is next to nothing, where does the need for a Michelin Guide come in?
Singapore had a food guide similar to the Michelin Guide called the Makansutra Guide. It ranked hawker stalls with chopsticks, with the very best called, “Die Die Must Try!”. The guide worked because it was spearheaded by K.F. Seetoh, a former journalist and he was recognised as Singapore’s Food Ambassador. He is a familiar name in local food.
Another notable, reputable local guide for food is ieatishootipost, a blog run by Dr Leslie Tay. He is a doctor, author, photographer and another authority on local food.
The main selling point of the Makansutra Guide and ieatishootipost is that they have reputable, transparent people running them. Also, while they do occasionally talk about restaurants, they are mostly devoted to local hawker food, something Singaporeans eat on a regular basis.
Michelin proudly announced that for their guide in Singapore, they will be hiring local inspectors to visit restaurants anonymously to rate and judge them.
First of all, the Michelin inspectors aren’t all that anonymous when they visit restaurants. The movie, “Burnt”, describes in detail the open secrets of a Michelin inspector’s habits and routines to give every restaurant a fair chance. Seasoned professionals in the restaurant business can probably spot them from a mile away.
Secondly, when the Michelin Guide was announced, a key selling point of it was that they were going to hire local inspectors to award stars. However, with the second guide out, not a single local inspector has been appointed.
Michael Ellis from Michelin said in a statement, “It is still on our radar to get local inspectors as it is a long-drawn out process for hiring. It takes six months to one year to train an inspector.”
Two Michelin Guides have come and gone without any local inspectors, can Michelin credibly represent local taste buds on what is objectively nice to eat? Furthermore, when they eventually do get local inspectors, are there going to be drastic changes in the awarding and dropping of Michelin Stars? Will Hainanese Chicken Rice go on the list?
But, was there ever a national consensus on what is considered good food? I would say, no.
So, in theory, what will a Michelin Guide bring? Some would argue it is a tourism booster, but since Singapore is already a world-renowned destination, the impact would be minimal.
What it might bring is a rise in prices from the Michelin-starred restaurant, with plenty of them already pushing the boundaries on the price of their food. Some might just argue that it is just business, and it is taking advantage of a favourable situation, but I feel that it is unfair to the consumer, as a Michelin Star does not bring costs for a restaurant up.
In cities like Paris and Tokyo, the Michelin Guide is a good guide as it has told locals and tourists alike for years where is the best Foie Gras terrine or Sushi in a city where hundreds of restaurants serve it. But, one of the biggest problems with the Singapore Michelin Guide is that it is late to the buffet, we do not need this newcomer to tell us what’s good.
Unlike the cities mentioned above, Singapore has a long, proud tradition of having many different tastes and cultures. Instead of specialising in just one cuisine, we have cuisine from all over the world. Clearly, Singapore would be worthy of being called the global city.
Don’t get me wrong, in no way am I calling the Michelin Guide bad, it benefits other major cities with great food like Paris and Tokyo. However, Singapore’s food culture, as mentioned in detail above, contradicts the ‘establishment’ of an elite few telling us something is worthy of a star from a French company that produce tyres.
Food, like everything enjoyable in life, is, and will always be subjective.