Shortly after the unveiling of the 2021 Michelin guide Hong Kong and Macau, Gwendal Poullennec, the guides’ international director, tells us about the green star rating and the publication’s role in supporting the hospitality industry during the pandemic.
Tell us about the new green star for excellence in sustainability.
As sustainability is becoming a higher priority, the Michelin Guide is committed to promote chefs and establishments that are transitioning to a more sustainable gastronomy, and therefore helping to build a more sustainable society. As such, we decided to extend the green star to the region, announcing in 2021 the first winners in Hong Kong and Macau.
Our role is to provide a framework for leaders to come together to take up the issue and build momentum. While they’re the real players in the industry to shape a more virtuous future, we as the Guide want to be an echo of their voice and actions. We’re convinced that it’s together that we’ll make progress.
The selection of green-star restaurants is the result of the return of the inspectors’ long-standing fieldwork alongside complementary research and exchanges with the chefs. In Hong Kong, the first awardee, Roganic, continues to strive to innovate sustainable dining by upholding its key pillars for change and hosting educational talks for students and local organizations to promote local awareness.
The past year has been very hard for restaurants around the world. How has Michelin tried to support chefs and restaurateurs?
We’re well aware that the industry has taken a massive hit, and many restaurants are still hampered by the pandemic’s impacts. Our local teams of inspectors will work with the industry in any way during recovery time by being flexible, respectful and realistic. We’ll be here to support, promote, publicise and encourage all restaurants and diners to safely return to restaurants to promote the sector’s recovery.
From an international perspective – and since the beginning of the pandemic – the Michelin Guide has continuously adapted to the local situation, ensuring its decisions and activities were the most relevant to the local context. The Guide has also developed many initiatives to pursue its historic mission: to be a link between international foodies and the chefs and restaurants. To do so, its teams imagined both local and global initiatives to keep feeding this link. On social media, for example, it launched its Michelin Guide at Home campaign promoting chefs’ recipes for reproduction at home during the lockdown. Its editorial platforms, such as its website, published many articles to promote restaurants’ alternative offers (take-away or delivery, for example). Thanks to our teams of inspectors in the field, we were also able to collect the most up-to-date information as well as bring awareness on the reality of the world industry by releasing, for example, a weekly international index that presents the percentage of starred restaurants operating around the world.
Tell us how the Guide has evolved over the years.
Since its creation in 1900 in France, the Michelin Guide has become one of the most accredited gastronomic publications in the world. Over the years, it’s always remained faithful to its core mission: to guide foodies and travellers by providing them with expert recommendations.
The international expansion of the Guide began as early as 1904. Nowadays, and with a very dynamic expansion in Asia and the Americas, the Michelin Guide has 28 editions and is present in no fewer than 50 destinations, for a total of 30,000 recommended restaurants. Despite its fast-growing popularity around the globe, the unwavering mission of the Guide is to recommend high-quality restaurants and provide gastronomic guidance to consumers. To achieve this mission, we’re continuously innovating to present readers with new products and services, like the social-media mobile app that creates more connections between foodies and restaurants.
Hong Kong is a gastronomic mecca. What do you see next for the city?
Hong Kong is, without a doubt, a world-famous food paradise. Even with the pandemic, we see restaurants adapting in several different ways to support their business and continue to provide the best dining experiences to Hong Kongers.
F&B-industry players in Hong Kong have been dynamic and enterprising, being quick to pivot business models and find alternatives to replace traditional dine-in revenue. We see restaurants offering meal kits and private-chef services. Restaurants were also responsibly upholding hygiene standards. Likely because of previous experience with Sars in 2003, Hong Kong restaurants were swift to adopt new hygiene measures.
We’re also thrilled to see restaurants in Hong Kong demonstrating an excellent sense of community as they shared industry insights and reflections with fellow colleagues during the hard times. We found that restaurateurs even organised virtual talks, voucher platforms and published a handbook sharing advice on operational changes.
With the F&B sector experiencing a significant shift in dynamic during the pandemic, I believe some of the characteristics and trends the industry has acquired will become permanent – diversity and flexibility will remain while refined takeaway services will play a bigger role.
When did you join the Michelin and what does the role involve?
I joined Michelin in 2003 right after graduation. I was in charge of the international deployment of the Guides in both the United States and Asia for 15 years. One of the highlights during my life in Michelin was initiating the Guide launches in New York City, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kyoto, Bangkok and Taipei.
I’m excited to continue embodying Michelin’s core values of generosity, passion and independence, while leading the global team of Michelin inspectors, managing the 28 editions of the Guide and never ceasing to innovate to fulfil our mission.
How many inspectors do you have all over the world and Asia?
We never communicate the number of our inspectors in order to protect their anonymity. We’re fortunate to have teams with various profiles that are very open to the world. The team includes inspectors of 15 nationalities who speak more than 25 languages.
For all the foodies out there, how does one become a Michelin inspector?
We recruit people who are experts in the food, dining, and hotel sectors with many years of experience working in the hospitality industry. Our inspectors have both international and local knowledge of ingredients, culinary techniques, cuisines and culinary fundamentals.
And, most importantly, they are, above all, food lovers who are passionate about exploring the international culinary scenes looking for the best gastronomic experiences and talents. As they’re likely to work in their country of origin as well as other countries or destinations, our inspectors are all very curious and open-minded. No matter where they eat, they have to put themselves in any customer’s shoes.
This story first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong.