WEL­COME

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - WELCOME - Tam­sin Cocks Edi­tor

The Miche­lin Guide has “pro­duced a le­gion of mis­er­able gour­mands”, the late AA Gill once wrote in a blis­ter­ing ar­ti­cle for Van­ity Fair. The renowned food critic slated the guide for be­com­ing an over­priced ex­er­cise in van­ity to feed the rag­ing egos of com­pet­i­tive chefs while giv­ing “foodie trainspot­ters” the ul­ti­mate brag­ging rights, but in the process, sucked any mod­icum of joy out of the ex­pe­ri­ence. Head­ing for a good night out with friends? Don’t sub­ject your­self to the sti­fling, old-fash­ioned rigours of a Miche­lin­starred venue…

It didn’t start out like this. The story of how a tyre-shaped fig­ure (named Biben­dum) be­came the mas­cot for ex­cel­lent food be­gins with the Miche­lin brothers, An­dre and Edouard, in France back in 1889. In or­der to drum up busi­ness for their tyre com­pany, the for­ward-think­ing brothers cooked up a mar­ket­ing scheme: a handy trav­eller’s guide with maps, in­for­ma­tion on where to get petrol or tyre re­pairs, and where to stop for the night and get a de­cent meal.

In­ter­est grew, par­tic­u­larly for the restau­rant sec­tion, and by 1931 the three-star sys­tem as we know it to­day had been es­tab­lished. From a hum­ble di­rec­tory, the Miche­lin Guide evolved into a des­ti­na­tion wish list. But has it now, as Gill ar­gued, evolved into an en­tirely dif­fer­ent beast?

Gill’s other main crit­i­cism took aim at the guide’s “limited scope and its snob­bery” in demon­strat­ing a clear bias against any­thing other than French cui­sine, point­ing out Italy has ab­surdly few three-star restau­rants in com­par­i­son, while the rich com­plex­i­ties of In­dian cui­sine just seemed to baf­fle the guide. No­tably, in the guide’s most re­cent ex­pan­sion in Thai­land, not a sin­gle es­tab­lish­ment in Bangkok was deemed wor­thy of a three-star rat­ing…

At the same time, there was noth­ing “mis­er­able” about the Bangkok guide launch – quite the op­po­site in fact. And hav­ing been lucky enough to dine in a few Miche­lin-starred es­tab­lish­ments, I can con­firm the ex­pe­ri­ences were nowhere near as hor­rific as Gill sug­gests. The last few guides have also demon­strated a clear shift away from the sup­posed de­vo­tion to for­mal din­ing rooms and eye-wa­ter­ing price tags, with a num­ber of street stalls be­ing hon­oured with the cov­eted stars.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing de­bate. But at the end of the day – it is just a guide. So if you agree with Gill, and hate the pre­ten­tious non­sense of Miche­lin’s fine-din­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, sim­ply use the guide as a “where to avoid”. But if you’re an ar­dent food lover with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the finer things in life, then turn to page 50 to find out where you should be head­ing in Bangkok.

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