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Last month, the French company known not just for its tyres but also for its “little red guide book” conferred several Malaysian establishments with its highly coveted Michelin Stars and Michelin Bib Gourmand awards. 

They’re the first of their kind in Malaysia to earn such a title and serve as inspiration for other restaurateurs and F&B businesses. 

But what does it mean to receive a Michelin Star or Bib Gourmand, and why is a tyre company handing out these world-renowned culinary accolades?

The history of the Stars

Back in 1889, the Michelin brothers founded the tyre empire and decided to curate a small guide book for travellers to boost the sales of cars and tyre purchases. It included maps, petrol pump locations, tyre-changing tutorials, hostels, and of course, a list of places to eat. 

Some time afterwards, it began segmenting restaurants into different categories, which kicked off the brand’s growing influence in the culinary sphere. In fact, the guide became so popular that the brand recruited mystery diners to visit and review restaurants anonymously.

Fast forward a few centuries later, and the Michelin Red Guide is now a big list of top-tier restaurants and hotels from all over the world.

Image Credit: Au Jardin

A tale of two awards

With a better understanding of how the Michelin tyre company became intertwined with our dining experiences, some other questions come to mind: What Michelin awards are there? How are Michelin awards earned? And who gets to decide?

According to their website, there are currently two types of Michelin awards in the culinary field for Malaysia, the Michelin Star and the Michelin Bib Gourmand. 

Michelin Stars are given to fine dining restaurants based on five main grading criteria:

  • Quality of the ingredients used
  • Mastery of flavour and cooking techniques
  • Personality of the chef in his cuisine
  • Value for money
  • Consistency between visits
Image Credit: Dancing Fish

In other words, a restaurant has to curate an interesting menu where quality ingredients are skillfully prepared. The dishes have to give diners something akin to a “mouthgasm” through their carefully crafted flavour combinations that highlight the chef’s individual character. 

A simpler way of looking at this is by picturing how every person has his own unique and distinctive handwriting. Ergo, a chef’s personality should also be evident in his cooking, however subtle it may be.

Of course, the taste of the food should also live up to its pricing, because who would want to pay more for something that tastes average? This is where the consistency factor comes into play too, as it wouldn’t make sense for a restaurant’s quality to dramatically fluctuate throughout the inspection timeline.

Michelin also provides a separate rating for a restaurant’s comfort in the form of a crossed fork and spoon symbol (called “covers”). The more covers you have, the more pleasant your establishment feels. As such, it’s appraised according to interior decor, table setting, and service.  

This is in Thai because we were unable to find this information on the Malaysian Michelin site / Image Credit: Michelin Guide

If you’ve read the recent news, you’ll notice that there are far more F&B businesses that were awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand than Michelin Stars in Malaysia. The reason for this lies in the fact that Malaysia has more local eateries than fine dining houses. 

The Michelin Bib Gourmand is earned by offering diners a three-course meal at an affordable price. The price limit deliberation varies from country to country and is based on the local cost of living, which means there are no fixed rules for a “Bib” restaurant.

The one thing that these eateries share in common is that they have a simpler cooking style which is generally popular and comforting among the masses. The Michelin website describes it as walking out with “a sense of satisfaction” from having good food at a decent price.

Image Credit: Aliyaa (left) / De.Wan 1958 (right)

Watch out for the judges

Regardless of which award a restaurant is being evaluated for, they will receive multiple visits from one (or more) of Michelin’s in-house restaurant inspectors. 

Every Michelin restaurant inspector possesses six core values: anonymity, independence, expertise, reliability, passion, and quality. They also tend to have past experiences in the F&B industry and are trained by other veteran Michelin inspectors before fieldwork. 

This ensures that they’re nurtured with the necessary skills and talent necessary to uphold Michelin’s global standards.

Here’s how their core values are explained:

AnonymityAlthough our inspectors work for the Michelin guide, they are above all customers like any other, testing restaurants in complete anonymity in order to ensure that they do not receive any special treatment.
IndependenceAll our inspectors are employees of the Michelin group, who always pay for their meals in the restaurants they are testing to ensure that they do not receive any special treatment.
ExpertiseOur inspectors are also real experts in the catering and hospitality industries, sectors in which many of them have previously worked.
ReliabilityThe different categories awarded by the guide are never just the result of one person’s judgement; they are formed by a collective decision which is the result of a long process.
PassionWhat would be the point of so much work and such a strict approach if our inspectors did not enjoy eating?
QualityAny restaurant can be recommended by our guide as long as its food is of high quality.
Image Credit: Nasi Ayam Hainan Chee Meng (left) / Ah Hei Bak Kut Teh (right)

It’s a serious taste test

To start off, every inspection begins with researching and determining which establishments deserve a visit. Some are sourced from the public’s suggestions, emails, social media, review sites, and publications. Once they’ve narrowed down the search, it’s time to get tasting.

A variety of dishes are ordered over a set period of visitation. This helps the restaurant inspector(s) to go over the different techniques and ingredients used, which then speaks for the skills of the chefs. 

The team of inspectors then have a “star meeting” at the end of each evaluation period to discuss and debate each selection’s qualifications. Do they meet the necessary criteria? Is it a one-time wonder? Are you sure you weren’t just starving that day so everything tasted good?

A great many things are considered before, finally, Michelin awards a selected group of restaurants with its famed titles.

Image Credit: Communal Table by Gēn (left) / De.Wan 1958 (right)

Why is it such a big deal?

For restaurants, besides being included in Michelin’s big international Red Guide, which typically translates to higher traffic and recognition, it’s just nice to be presented with an award to showcase years of hard work. Wouldn’t you like to get acknowledgement for your skills and expertise?

On the customer’s side, there’s no denying that being able to get a spot at a Michelin Star establishment is a status symbol, giving us more social currency.

Wanting to show off aside though, people also just tend to gravitate towards things that have been recognised by world-class organisations, as a form of indulgence. As said in the TV series Parks and Recreation, “Treat yoself!”

  • Read more F&B content here.

Featured Image Credit: Michelin Guide

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)