Restaurants in Singapore are short-staffed as demand for dining out has resumed in the sector that has been hit hard by the pandemic. According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, more than 15,000 employees left the F&B industry in 2020, but there was only a net increase of 600 workers last year.
Labour shortage is a common problem faced by restaurants around the world, says Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of the Michelin Guide, who was recently in town for the announcement of the starred-restaurant list last Tuesday (12 July).
In an interview with The Peak, Poullennec shares that the Michelin Guide hopes to leverage its credibility and gravitas in the restaurant industry to recognize front-of-house staff in two special awards that were introduced in the Singapore selection this year.
The Welcome & Service Award, which recognizes the talent and passion of service staff, went to Samantha Goh, restaurant manager of two-starred Saint Pierre, while chef-sommelier Eric Eu of three-starred Les Amis received the Sommelier Award.
Poullennec says: “After putting the spotlight on chefs, it’s time also to put the spotlight on the wonderful front-of-house teams, and never forget that a great gastronomy experience is about teamwork.”
He adds that the Guide hopes to create a positive impact on the dining industry by “motivating more restaurant professionals, paving more possibilities and crafting a future for them in the industry.”
The Frenchman, who leads a fiercely anonymous team of inspectors around the world, also sheds some light on the workings of the renowned Red Guide.
How will the Michelin Guide continue to support the restaurant industry, which faces a new set of challenges in a post-pandemic world?
Manpower shortage is something that restaurants around the world are facing — gourmands around the world are heading back to the restaurants, but they are lacking skilled manpower to meet the high demand. That was why we introduced two new awards this year, Welcome & Service, and Sommelier Awards, to motivate restaurant professionals and pave more possibilities for them in the restaurant industry. People can enjoy working in restaurants and have a great career too.
Getting listed in the Michelin Guide can create an impact for destinations, in terms of job creation and increasing the attractiveness of jobs within the industry. Chefs and kitchen teams can build up their career paths.
One thing that restaurants value is feedback. How does the Michelin Guide provide feedback to the restaurants that they have rated?
What we don’t do at the Michelin Guide is consulting, as we do not want to influence chefs and their teams in any way. There is no one way to get a star as restaurants showcase different flavours, techniques and produce. What the inspectors will evaluate is the quality of the food, and chefs can definitely express their own personalities. As part of the inspection methodology, one of the criteria is the chef’s personality as expressed on the plate, so we need to respect this.
In some cases, if the chef is willing to have a discussion with Michelin, it is possible. It is an open discussion, but we will never say “this is what you have to do”. Instead, we would say something along the lines of “we have been to your place and this was not what we had expected”. The Michelin Guide is about having an independent customer’s point of view.
The Michelin Guide launched in Dubai and expanded to Florida last month. How do the inspectors evaluate which cities are ready for a Michelin Guide?
As we are speaking, several inspector teams are scouting what could be the next move for the Michelin Guide by exploring new culinary destinations and emerging cuisines. Based on their findings in the field and applying the inspection methodology, we will decide which destinations we need to cover in our selection.
For example, we have been working in Dubai for more than 7 years [before launching the guide]. During this time, we decided that the [dining scene] in Dubai is not mature and consistent enough, so we decided to wait and constantly monitor the evolution of the culinary landscape year by year.
You have 5 daughters, how do you share more about food with them?
I try to educate their tastebuds. On Saturday mornings, I would take them to the markets, and cook the seasonal ingredients that can be found in the markets. I am training them to be curious about everything. Coming from the West part of France, we love to use a lot of butter in our traditional dishes.
If you could have a meal with someone, who would you pick and why?
I would just like to eat out with my wife. I am travelling around the world — having enough time to spend with your family is one thing, and to be just alone with your wife, it’s a real challenge. That’s a real treat for me.