Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Singapore to get Michelin food guide in 2016

It's first in S-East Asia to have prestigious guide; hawker fare could be listed, too
By Tan Hsueh Yun, Food Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2015

After three to four years of negotiations, Singapore will be the first South-east Asian country to get its own Michelin Guide, and hawker food might well be featured.

The bilingual edition, in English and Chinese, will be launched in the second half of next year.

The guide, which foodies the world over turn to for restaurant recommendations, has two main collaborators here. The Singapore Tourism Board will market and promote it, while Robert Parker Wine Advocate, an authority on fine wines, will create an online platform to complement the print version.

The website,, is the first for any city's Michelin Guide. At a press briefing yesterday at The Arts House, Mr Michael Ellis, international director of Michelin Guides, said its inspectors have been on the ground to check out the food scene, but declined to say for how long.

They are assessing eateries from the entire spectrum of the local food scene. Michelin typically awards its coveted stars - ranging from one to three - to 15 to 20 per cent of restaurants.

Others which offer quality food at affordable prices are given Bib Gourmand awards.

It's the Michelin Man! #Singapore will be the first Southeast Asian country to get its own #MichelinGuide next year. Michelin guides' International Director Michael Ellis tells us what's in store. What's your take on the news?
Posted by 938LIVE on Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mr Ellis said: "The idea is to reflect what is happening in the culinary scene here, and to have restaurants for every budget and occasion."

This means that mid-tier restaurants and even hawker food will be assessed.

"Given the huge diversity and quality of the hawker food market, I would be very surprised that hawker food does not play an important part in the Singapore guide," he said. "If they find hawker food with the quality, consistency and ingredients to earn a star, it'll happen. We gave a star in Hong Kong for dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, showing that it's possible."

For any city's debut guide, Michelin relies on its existing inspectors from all over the world. He added that it was looking to train Singapore inspectors for the job for subsequent editions.

Asked how non-Singaporean inspectors are qualified to judge Singapore and hawker food, he said: "All of our inspectors move around the world. They have been exposed to street food."

One of Michelin's partners here is Resorts World Sentosa, which has several celebrity restaurants. Asked if there might be conflicts of interest, Mr Ellis said the assessment of the restaurants was separate from other operations.

"The key to our success has been independence; that is a religion to us."

Michelin puts out 25 guides covering 24 countries. Singapore's will be the 26th. In Asia, Japan, Hong Kong and Macau have their own guides.

Mr Ignatius Chan, 52, owner of Iggy's restaurant at The Hilton Hotel, said: "We have many restaurants in Singapore, but it may be a challenge to find enough established and quality restaurants that are sustainable on the list over time."

Mr Toby Koh, 45, group managing director of Ademco Security, an adventurous diner who likes to discover new eateries overseas, said the guide will help improve the visibility of Singapore's dining scene.

"I'm sure the guide will spark online debate and controversy. Taste is subjective. But it could help save our local food culture from dying out. Maybe then people will rethink paying $8 for a bowl of wonton mee, for example.

"It will also make the business more viable for the next generation."

Will Michelin Guide inspectors judging Singapore know zi char?
Industry players welcome guide for Singapore but are concerned how local food would be judged alongside Western fare
By Eunice Quek, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2015

The food and beverage industry was abuzz after the well-respected Michelin Guide announced on Monday (Nov 30) that it is launching its Singapore edition in the second half of next year.

It will be the first Michelin Guide for a South-east Asian country, and the fourth in Asia following Japan, Hong Kong and Macau - all of which have gained international recognition as dining destinations.

The guide's debut here is in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board and wine authority Robert Parker Wine Advocate.

Like in Hong Kong, where cheaper hole-in-the-wall eateries are part of the list, the Singapore one may include hawker food too.

Chefs and restaurateurs alike welcome the move to further endorse Singapore as a foodie capital, something they had expected after the launch of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list, which has held its award ceremony here since its debut in 2013. Next year, the ceremony moves to Bangkok.

But while many want Singaporean cuisine to be part of the Michelin Guide, they also raised concerns about how Singapore food would be judged alongside Western fare by the guide's inspectors.

Chef Malcolm Lee, 31, of Candlenut, a modern Peranakan restaurant in New Bridge Road, hopes the guide will put the spotlight on Singapore fare.

He says: "We can be proud of our local cuisine and it can help us gain recognition. It is a great opportunity for Singapore to gain global recognition. Singaporeans may be sceptical of Michelin stars, but it can definitely help tourism."

Restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 43, who runs the Unlisted Collection group of restaurants, including Ember and Esquina, hopes the guide will feature a balance of Western and Asian cuisine, including restaurants helmed by Singapore chefs.

He says: "A French reviewer will know the cuisine from Les Amis and Joel Robuchon, but will they know the flavour profiles someone like Candlenut's chef Lee is trying to achieve? Do they know what is buah keluak? I'm not sure how they would judge our zi char restaurants either."

Chef-restaurateur Violet Oon, 66, who owns her eponymous restaurant in Bukit Timah Road and the new National Kitchen by Violet Oon at the National Gallery Singapore, says: "I do hope that the inspectors know enough about our food. After all, Singaporean cuisine deserves a real part in the Michelin Guide. It may be easier for the inspectors to benchmark Western restaurants. But people do travel here to eat too and our cuisine does resonate with people all over the world."

Food guide Makansutra's founder K.F. Seetoh, 52, says that Michelin-starred chefs who have set up shop here have not necessarily fared well, such as Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands, which has closed. He says: "You can ride on the guide to create awareness of street food, but discerning foodies will not see it as a Bible for street food. Our food reputation is already doing well around the world. I guess people want a Michelin star because they think it can do things for them."

And while hawker Douglas Ng, 24, of A Fishball Story hawker stall in Beach Road, says the guide is a form of encouragement and recognition, he adds that Singaporeans will still stick to their favourites.

He says: "If we get a Michelin star today, does that mean that locals who have been eating at another fishball noodle stall will come to us instead? I don't think so. But a tourist who doesn't have the time to eat through so many stalls before deciding which one he likes best will appreciate the guide more."

From a business point of view, chef Jason Tan, 33, of Corner House, a fine-dining restaurant in the Botanic Gardens, is concerned that restaurants here may see a fluctua- tion of business, with diners going to those recognised by the guide.

He says: "This may affect some businesses initially, although, as seen in Hong Kong, the business should stablise after two to three years.

"We may also see an increased level of competition among chefs and restaurants, although I believe the friendly relationship among chefs here will ensure a professional and healthy level of competition."

And like many business owners, Mr Yuan Oeij, 46, of the Prive Group, hopes the introduction of the guide will not result in increased food prices.

He says: "Food in Singapore is already quite expensive. Those that are well-rated should not use a Michelin star as an opportunity to increase prices."

Chef Andre Chiang, 39, of Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh Road calls the arrival of the Michelin Guide the "greatest thing" for Singapore and is hopeful that his restaurant will make the cut.

He says: "Michelin is a powerful guide that maps out the world's best dining destinations. It automatically confirms that Singapore is a world-class culinary city. I am confident that Singapore has more than enough qualified restaurants to be in the guide."

Singapore Michelin Guide - the good, the bad and the uncertainty
By Tan Hsueh Yun, Food Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Dec 2015

The announcement on Monday that Singapore will be getting its own Michelin Guide next year was greeted with elation, scepticism and worry.

The guide, an offshoot of French tyre company Michelin, was launched in 1900 in a bid to increase the sale of cars and, therefore, tyres by showing French motorists where they could go for good food. It has since spawned 25 guides covering 24 countries.

Despite the controversies over how the restaurants are assessed and rumblings about how it is out of touch with what's really happening in the food world, the guide has become something of a bible for those wanting to know where to eat well. People trust it because the inspectors dine anonymously and always pay for their meals, both of which go some way in ensuring that the Michelin ratings, of one to three "stars", cannot be bought.

The elation is coming mostly from chefs and restaurateurs. For the latter, a star rating will almost guarantee increased business.

Chefs here can finally be ranked with the best in the world.

As chef Andre Chiang, 39, of Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh Road, who worked for years in Michelin-starred restaurants in France, said in a Facebook post: "Since the first day Restaurant Andre opened its doors in 2010, every day, every service, every dish, we put our whole heart in it, we don't 'get ready', we 'stay ready'."

Diners, on the other hand, are the ones who worry and are sceptical.

They wonder if the inspectors are up to the job.

Mr Michael Ellis, 53, international director of the Michelin Guides, has said that fine dining establishments are not the only ones that will be assessed. The inspectors will be looking at the entire dining scene here, including hawker food.

As he tells The Straits Times: "Given the huge diversity and quality of the hawker food market, I would be very surprised that hawker food does not play an important part in the Singapore guide.

"If they find hawker food with the quality, consistency and ingredients to earn a star, it'll happen. We gave a star in Hong Kong for dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, showing that it's possible."

For any city's debut guide, the inspectors doing the assessment are drawn from Michelin's pool from all over the world. Mr Ellis says they are all experienced, having eaten widely and been exposed to street food and such.

In subsequent years, local inspectors will be hired and trained to supplement those from overseas.

But can someone who did not grow up eating kway chap - sheets of rice noodles in a thick broth eaten with offal - really assess it fairly? Will they understand the nuances of white on white chicken rice? Can they tell different styles of bak chor mee (minced pork noodle) apart? Will they understand our soul food?

There are others who worry about prices going up.

But, in fact, restaurateurs here have had no problems charging high prices, Michelin Guide or not. I have paid more for meals here than I have at Michelin-starred elBulli in Spain and The French Laundry in the United States.

Food operators know they risk alienating diners with every price hike. This is especially so for hawker food, where a 10-cent increase can drive business to other stalls.

I trust savvy hawkers and restaurateurs will know what to do. If the prices become even more ridiculous than they are now, diners will walk. There are plenty of choices here for hungry people.

Now, I have never relied on guides or lists of best restaurants in the world to decide where to eat. I don't even read reviews if I can help it. Instead, I read up on the chefs, check out their cookbooks, if they have any, watch documentaries on them, talk to friends who have dined at the restaurants and then decide.

But I know there are many others who do rely on guides and I can see at least three good things that will come out of a Michelin one for Singapore.

The first is that local talent will be given a platform to shine if they do well and impress the inspectors. I hope the inspectors are as thorough as Mr Ellis implies they will be.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if chefs Bryan Chia and Petrina Loh, both 33, of Morsels in Mayo Street; Jason Tan, 33, of Corner House in the Botanic Gardens; Brandon Foo, 29, of Le Bistrot Du Sommelier in Armenian Street; and Anthony Yeoh, 34, of Cocotte in Dickson Road are recognised in the guide?

There is also Willin Low, 43, who started serving Modern Singapore cuisine at his restaurant Wild Rocket in Mount Emily, encouraging other chefs to give familiar dishes a sophisticated twist.

The second is that the Singapore dining scene will get a boost from having a Michelin Guide, with more people travelling here to dine and, hopefully, discovering the city's other charms at the same time.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Any initiative to promote Singapore on the world stage is not to be sniffed at. The economic outlook seems gloomy, so getting more travellers here willing to spend money can only be a good thing.

The third silver lining is a wish that I hope will become reality.

Consistency, more precisely the lack of it, is a problem that plagues all levels of the food scene here. The food in a hawker stall, cafe, zi char place or high-end restaurant can be great one time and not so great or downright terrible on the next visit.

The usual reason for this problem - difficulty in hiring and retaining staff - will not go away any time soon. So restaurants will have to buck up and find other ways to ensure the quality stays the same.

Mr Ellis has said the inspectors visit the same restaurant two, three times, months apart, and consistency is one criterion.

Any chef or hawker who wants to stay on the guide or to get more stars will have to work harder at consistency.

They will not be able to rely on a couple of signature dishes to impress but will be forced to create, to think through the sequence of a meal, to source ingredients more carefully, and do everything possible to ensure their establishments stand out.

I hope my wish for consistent, quality fare will come true, and I will not be throwing good money at bad food as often as I do now.

Ultimately, the success of the guide will depend not just on the quality of the restaurants here, but also on the credibility of the guide.

If it goes the way of the Hong Kong and Macau one, then all that hard work by chefs and hawkers here will have been for nothing.

When the first edition of the Hong Kong and Macau guide was published in 2008, people complained that it focused too much on high-end restaurants.

In subsequent years, they have been mystified by the restaurants awarded stars. Those that are pretty good but not the best have been given the top rating of three stars. One Chinese restaurant came out of nowhere to get three stars in the 2011 third edition of the guide. This, apparently, had never happened before - anywhere.

Like many other people who are into food, I cannot wait for the first edition of the Singapore Michelin guide to come out, some time in the second half of next year.

We Singapore eaters are a passionate, vocal lot - and we will not be afraid to pounce.

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