5 myths about the Michelin Guide debunked

Rightly or wrongly, everyone has something to say about the Michelin Guide. Here are 5 oft-whispered misconceptions we’d like to lay to rest.
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Myth 1: The Michelin Guide rates top chefs

We'll let you in on a little fact not everyone realises: there is no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef. 

Having worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant or even owning a string of three-starred establishments does not make one a Michelin-starred chef - because the term does not technically exist.

The Michelin Guide awards stars to restaurants based on the quality of the food they serve, and not to individuals. Rightfully too, as world-class meals are often the collective efforts of an entire kitchen team, and not one man (or woman) alone.

The guide is updated annually and restaurants can lose their stars if they close during the year of assessment, or if they do not maintain their standards over the year.

Chefs cannot take off with the stars, nor do the stars transfer to another restaurant owned by the same chef. For instance, a chef who leaves a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe and moves to Singapore to open a new restaurant is not a Michelin-starred chef. Likewise, if a chain of Michelin-starred restaurants from Hong Kong opens an overseas outlet in Singapore, the Singapore branch is not automatically a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Conversely, a restaurant does not instantly lose its stars even if its head chef decides to leave halfway through the year and is replaced by a new chef.


Myth 2: The Michelin Guide does not rate a restaurant's service standards

While it is true that stars are awarded to restaurants based on the quality of their food alone, there is more to the Michelin Guide rankings than its coveted stars.

The Michelin Guide’s team of restaurant inspectors recognise that a restaurant’s ambience and the amicability and attentiveness of its wait staff contribute as much to a comfortable dining experience as the food being served.

As such, there’s a separate category of “covers” (or couverts in French) - represented by the fork and knife () symbol for restaurants and the pavilion symbol () for hotels - to indicate the comfort and quality of a rated establishment.

Establishments may get one cover to indicate that it is a comfortable restaurant and up to five stars for luxurious restaurants. Symbols may be black or red: black indicates that it is basic and red symbols indicate that a venue is particularly comfortable.

Myth 3: The Michelin Guided is biased towards French cooking

The Michelin Guide has a stable of inspectors are full-time employees, who are responsible for rating over 40,000 hotels and restaurants in over 24 countries across three continents. Many of them have studied in the best hospitality schools in the world, live in different continents and have an open mind towards cuisines from every culture.

As such, the guide celebrates local food variance too - and this is reflected in the wide repertoire of symbols it uses. In territories such as Spain, noteworthy tapas bars have an additional wine and toothpick symbol on their listings, while quality pubs in the UK/Ireland guide are marked with a beer mug symbol.

Meanwhile, restaurants with impressive notable wine, sake and cocktail lists are recognised with the grape, sake bottle and cocktail glass symbols respectively.

Myth 4: The Michelin Guide only lists fancy fine-dining restaurants

This is one bargain-savvy Singaporeans will be happy to hear: the Michelin Guide isn’t always about white table cloths and polished crystal glasses.

Globally, stars have been awarded to a wide spectrum of restaurants: the 2010 crowning of Hong Kong dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan’s hole-in-the-wall maiden outlet in Mongkok and Y1,100(S$14)-a-bowl streetside ramen noodle bar Tsuta in Tokyo last year were indications that good food needs no minimum spend. In the just launched 2016 edition of the Michelin Guide Singapore, Michelin awarded one star each to two popular hawkers, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, which serves minced meat noodles from S$5 and chicken rice from S$2 respectively - making them now the cheapest Michelin-starred eateries in the world.

To cater to food hunters seeking a satisfying meal without breaking the bank (and who isn’t one?), the Bib Gourmand category introduced in 1955 recognises establishments who provide a stellar three-course meal for a moderate price. This is capped at S$45 for restaurants in Singapore, €36 for restaurants in France, Spain and Italy, 37€ for restaurants in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany, 28 pounds for the UK/Ireland guide, US$40 in American cities, HK300 in Hong Kong and Y5,000 in Tokyo. In the inaugural edition of the Singapore guidebook, 34 eateries made the 2016 Bib Gourmand list, while over 62 out of 138 of the guide's total selections come under the hawker or street food categories.

In the most recent edition of the 2016 Paris Guide, the Michelin Guide also debuted a brand new category in the guide, L’Assiette, or The Plate in English, which recognises restaurants that serve that serve “a good, simple meal”, but which haven’t been awarded stars or bibs.

S$5 minced meat noodles from Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles
S$5 minced meat noodles from Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles

Myth 5: Michelin Guide inspectors are not always anonymous

Keeping the identities of the Michelin Guide’s inspectors confidential is necessary to ensure that their independence and freedom to speak their minds isn’t compromised.

However, different members of the Michelin Guide team may at times identify themselves in order to conduct “technical visits”, on which they obtain up-to-date information and press materials such as menus and photographs from restaurants and hotels. Once an inspector identifies himself to a particular establishment for a technical visit, he will no longer be the one assessing it, leaving other members of his team to do it on separate, unannounced visits.

Michelin Guide inspectors visit every venue listed every 18 months as a minimum, and its Bib Gourmand and starred venues as many times as necessary. Restaurants do not - and cannot - pay to be listed in the guide.

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