Beware the curse of Michelin

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Beware the curse of Michelin

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is called the City of Towers. The city is known for more than 1,000 pointy steeples and the Little Mermaid statue by the harbor. In the last five years, visitors to Copenhagen increased by 12 percent, thanks to Noma - a Nordic restaurant that has been named the world’s best restaurant for four years. Noma uses local ingredients such as reindeer meat and wild moss, and brought international spotlight to the little-known Nordic cuisine. And Noma’s presence attracts tourists with gastronomic interests.

In tourism, the fun of enjoying local food is significant. Foreign visitors coming to Korea enjoy shopping the most, at 72.8 percent, followed by epicurean experiences, at 48.4 percent. Food is a far more attractive element than business at 16.5 percent, sightseeing at 14.2 percent and enjoying natural scenery at 13.3 percent.

So we welcome the news that the Michelin Guide is publishing a Seoul edition. Being chosen as one of the regional editions for the guide means recognition for superb local gastronomic culture. Paris, New York and Tokyo are often considered the top foodie destinations.

But we must keep in mind that the guide is a double-edged sword. There are indicators that determine the level of countries in certain areas. For science, we look at how many Nobel Prize winners in physics and chemistry a country has produced. The Michelin Guide is an indicator for gastronomy. The guide gives up to three stars to restaurants, and the number of Michelin-starred restaurants is considered a measure of gastronomic culture.

A city with the most number of starred restaurants is Tokyo. Last year, 226 restaurants received stars, far more than the 94 in Paris and 73 in New York. I wonder how Korean cuisine will be viewed if Seoul has far fewer starred restaurants than Tokyo.

Another concern is the curse of Michelin. When a restaurant receives a star, it often experiences a surge of visitors, and the service and quality of food are often compromised. Some restaurants decide to ask Michelin to revoke a star in order to better serve their loyal customers.

Moreover, awarding stars may bring media attention to the chefs, and they may be tempted to seek celebrity status rather than focusing on restaurants. A Michelin Guide is not a one-time event. When a restaurant fails to maintain its star status, it could be seen as declining. There have been a number of star chefs who killed themselves out of fear of losing stars. Lately, K-food is the next buzzword after K-pop for its healthy offerings. I am worried that Michelin’s curse may harm the rising K-food culture.

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 14, Page 35

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