Singaporeans already know that our food is world class. Come July 21, the world will learn that too when the Singapore edition of the Michelin Guide debuts. Here are nine things you need to know about the prestigious restaurant guide.
1. Singapore is the first Southeast Asian country to get its own guide.
Only three other Asian cities have this honour. Macau was first featured in 2009, Hong Kong’s guide went local with street food offerings in the same year and Japan made waves with a record 261 stars in 2010.
2. The target demographic of the tyre company can be seen in the company’s mascot, the Bibendum.
Inspired by a stack of tyres, the Bibendum mascot in his first iteration, as drawn by French cartoonist Marius Roussillon, sported a pince-nez, chomped on a cigar and waved around a glass of champagne. The portly figure and his accessories reflected the wealthy businessmen who were often the only ones who could afford a car.
3. The Michelin brothers dreamt up the Michelin Guide in 1900 as a customer service tool as well as a marketing ploy.
The early guides. which were given free of charge, were practical and contained loads of useful information for drivers. The guides offered advice ranging from instructions for changing a tyre and where to buy gasoline (at selected pharmacies since petrol stations were as yet unknown) to listings for hotels and restaurants. Interestingly enough, the restaurants were simply listed, but not yet reviewed and rated. The idea was to encourage drivers to go out on the road (and wear out tyres, leading to the need to buy more tyres).
4. You want it, pay for it.
In 1920, the company began to charge seven francs for each guide, partly because the guides were being used for all sorts of other purposes, from propping up workbenches to serving as emergency toilet paper. By then however the Guide had become so useful that people willingly paid for it. In that first year, nearly 100,000 copies were sold.
5. The ratings system for restaurants was first introduced in 1926.
That was when good quality restaurants were given a single star. This system was further refined in 1931 when the now-famous three-star system was introduced. One star represents very good cooking in its category, two stars means the restaurant is worth a detour while three stars indicated an exceptional restaurant that is a destination unto itself. That same year, the Michelin Guide also changed the colour of its cover – from blue to its now signature red.
6. The link to World War II.
The last Michelin published before the war broke out was in 1939. The Allied forces, when planning the Normandy landings, reprinted the 1939 edition because its maps helped soldiers navigate Nazi-occupied France where road signs had been destroyed.
7. The Bib Gourmand was introduced in 1997.
This was a more mass market indicator. Restaurants offering a good fixed price, three-course meal (US$40 in America) was marked with the symbol of the Bidendum licking his lips.
Besides restaurant ratings, the Michelin Guide now also includes other recommendations, such as the Notable Wine List, the Notable Sake List, and the Notable Cocktail List. Today, the guide has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and it now covers more than 40,000 restaurants across three continents.
8. When stars are lost.
The redoubtable chef Gordon Ramsay, infamously foul-mouthed and abrasive, cried when his restaurant The London (he sold it in 2009 but it still bears his name) was stripped of its two-star rating in 2013. When asked what he would do if he found out who was responsible for the loss, Ramsay said: “I would take you to the most amazing fjord in Norway and I would drown you.”
In 2003, French chef Bernard Loiseau shot himself following speculation that he could lose his restaurant’s three stars. Loiseau had told Jacques Laimelose, former owner of three-star restaurant Maison Laimelose, “If I lose a star I’ll kill myself.” Loiseau’s suicide cast media spotlight on the pressure of retaining the Michelin stars, and highlighted the amount of worth and weight each star carries.
9. The Michelin curse?
When the Guide tackled street food for the first time with its Hong Kong entry in 2009, the acknowledgement came as a mixed blessing for the small family-run eateries that won Michelin notice. BBC.com reported on the “Michelin curse” as some of the Michelin-featured eateries were slapped with enormous rent increases from landlords looking to cash in on the hype.
Adapted from The Straits Times.