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Michelin Guide coming for Seoul later this year

Arrival of renowned reviewer generating excitement, anxiety

Mar 11,2016
Finally the time has come for Seoul to take its place as one of the rising food capitals of the world. The Michelin Guide, a series of annual restaurant guides, is slated publish a Seoul edition later this year.

The Seoul guide will be the fourth edition in Asia and the 27th globally. It will include both Korean and English in the same book, according to Michelin, the French tire company, and it will be updated and printed every year from 2017. Only restaurants in Seoul will be reviewed, and the content will also be available digitally.

The book will come out sometime this year, but the exact publication date has not been confirmed.

The arrival of the globally renowned guide is being welcomed as evidence of the status of Seoul as a gastronomic city, considering the authority the guide has accumulated over its 116 years of publication. At the same time, many are wondering whether the French guide will have critical and credible assessment standards on restaurants here that will be accepted by locals as well as visiting foreigners. Some of the worries include that many of the restaurants that serve traditional style Korean foods might be neglected, or that some might be excluded just because the service is poor or the interior isn’t fancy.

Bernard Delmas, senior vice president of the Michelin Group, right, and Kim Bohyung, president of Michelin Korea, announce the impending launch of the Michelin Guide’s Seoul edition, which will be published within the year. [PRAIN]
Bernard Delmas, senior vice president of the Michelin Group, right, and Kim Bo-hyung, president of Michelin Korea, announce the impending launch of the Michelin Guide’s Seoul edition, which will be published within the year. [PRAIN]
Bernard Delmas, the senior vice president of the Michelin Group and representative of Michelin Travel Partner for Asia-Pacific, dismissed such worries at the press conference Thursday in Seoul.

“Star rating is based on what’s on the plate and only this,” Delmas said, adding that the level of service is reviewed separately from the quality of the food. A symbol featuring a spoon and fork indicate the level of service, while the food alone is rated with between one and three stars.

However, the guide won’t be employing flexible or different assessment standards just because the traditional food here might be different from that in France or elsewhere. The guide specifies that there are five assessment criteria for Michelin stars: The quality of the ingredients: the mastery of the cooking and flavors: the personality of the cuisine: the value for the money: and the consistency, both over time and across the entire menu. The company has applied these same standards when reviewing restaurants in other parts of Asia.

“The popularity of Korean gastronomy is brought internationally with the spread of the Korean Wave,” Delmas said, adding that the reviewers have tried Korean food when rating Korean restaurants in other cities across the world, and have accumulated the ability to successfully review non-Western-style food.

Teams of both Korean and foreign reviewers will be visiting restaurants in Seoul, and the reviews officially started yesterday. They have gathered information on restaurants to review, and this includes some places that serve street-food-style dishes as well. To check how consistently restaurants have been working, Michelin officials have been doing preliminary inspections at local restaurants since 2011, when the first Michelin Green Guide for travel in Korea was published, according to Delmas.

He also kept open the possibility of Michelin publishing special editions on other cities or regions of Korea, although the company has no plans to do so at the moment.

Cover of the Michelin Guide Seoul
The guide and its three-star rating system have become more familiar with locals since it recognized two Korean chefs. Chef Lee Young-hoon’s restaurant Le Passe Temps in Lyon, France, received one star and chef Yim Jung-sik’s Jungsik in New York received two.

Now chefs in Seoul are starting to get nervous about the scrutiny they will soon face. Rumors have been floating around that some restaurants have already been contacted by officials from the guide, bringing tension among chefs to the surface.

“To those who are currently operating restaurants, this review could come as something scary and threatening, and make them jealous if someone they know get stars while they don’t, but to aspiring chefs in Korea, this news will work as great motivation,” said Lee Hyung-jun, owner and chef of the French restaurant Sousmarin in Hannam-dong, central Seoul.

“Of course, there will be good and bad talk about the arrival of the guide in the beginning, but in the long term, I think it will bring positive effects because foreign travelers will have a credible reference when they need to find a place to eat here and make the overall dining scene here bigger.”

Despite speculation on which local companies will join hands with the tire company to publish the book, Michelin said that all costs are covered by the headquarters and the Korean branch of the company, according to Kim Bo-hyung, president of Michelin Korea, who was at the press conference. He said the company might be open to finding a partner to launch the digital version of the book.


BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]




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