7 Shanghai Chefs Rage Against the Michelin Machine

By That's Shanghai, September 22, 2016

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The first Shanghai edition of the revered Michelin Guide is here. While the list did highlight plenty of quality Chinese cuisine and a smattering of Western restaurants, there were a number of big names missing from both the main list and Bib Gourmand winners – something that’s ruffled more than a few feathers in the F&B community. 

We checked in with a handful of chefs under condition of strict anonymity (so they can tell us what they really think) to hear what they had to say on the matter – and while most are happy for the winners, they're also pretty angry. Be warned: chefs aren’t known for their placid demeanors and this post may contain expletives.

The opinions expressed below are held by individuals and do not represent That's Shanghai

1. "I feel sorry for the three star restaurants... that have to share their titles with the selection that was just made."

The Shanghai 2017 guide is nothing more than an aftershock of the horrendous Hong Kong guide launched in 2009. I feel sorry for the three star restaurants of the world that have to share their titles with the selection that was just made.

Also, I kind of feel Mr & Ms Bund was kind of a no brainer for one star. Even if it’s not my favorite place, you have to give it credit. Oh yea, it's also pretty bullshit [that] Atto Primo got zero mention, even in the recommendation section.”

2. "The inspectors clearly have a completely different palate than most people in Shanghai."

I felt the list seemed too rushed, and ended up not being based on quality. The inspectors clearly have completely a different palate than most people in Shanghai. 

I think Le Bec or Coquille deserved stars. 

3. "Michelin played it safe."

"It was a beating on the Western restaurants in Shanghai. A beating! No stars for Mr & Mrs Bund, Jean Georges, Table No. 1, Commune Social to name a few. All deserve a Michelin star if you compare them to one-starred restaurants around the world. And it looks like Michelin played it safe, giving stars to restaurants that have stars in other cities. It was a safe bet.

"And if 3 stars means 'worth a special journey' how did Ultraviolet not get 3? People fly in from all over the world to dine there. Consistency, quality, originality, creativity – it has it all. And Franck not mentioned in the guide at all? And El Willy not mentioned in the guide at all? Why?"

4. "You have to be kidding me."

"Basically the Michelin list is a joke, I appreciate that they've tried to include Chinese restaurants but it doesn't seem like whoever was judging them had any background or training or even understanding of Chinese food.

Lei Garden got one star for each of their mall outlets?  They're pretty good, but one star good? You have to be kidding me. 

T'ang Court? Decent, but hardly three star worthy, similar to Imperial Treasure, Canton 8, they're all perfectly decent but I've worked in two star restaurants, and that meant full-time florists on staff, a wine list of over 500 curated boutique wines that every single service member knew, and a team of over 200 to make that magic happen, I mean, it's just a different level.

And let's get real, Robuchon, after four months of operation?  That's laughable and an insult to the restaurants that have spent years getting to that point. In my opinion, Jean Georges restaurant deserved a star."

5. "This guide is an embarrassment."

"Not a single Japanese place with a star???

They seem to be giving sympathy stars to operations just because other branches have stars, when we know these should be decided on their own merit. 

This guide is an embarrassment, and it's obvious the inspectors were not a Shanghai-based team."

6. "What did you expect?"

I am happy that Michelin finally decided to come to Shanghai but I think that as a Western organization they know little of Chinese regional cuisine, and therefore base a lot of their star giving on environment and service but not necessarily food, which is a pity. 

For the people who received stars, I am genuinely happy for them. I think we all work really hard in this industry and its nice to see people get recognition for that. People are really surprised at the outcome of the awards but the truth is: what did you expect? Judge a good restaurant by how busy it is, consistently. That's where I'd want to eat. I don't need Michelin Guide to tell me that.

In regards to who I think deserved a star? There are a lot of restaurants with very talented chefs and front of house staff that deserve recognition. But the truth is, if you hold us to a standard of New York or Paris in terms of service and raw material, it's hardly a comparison. The expectation that to have good service the staff should speak fluent English is ludicrous, as you would never expect American servers to speak fluent Chinese. There are a lot of problems with general expectations here.

7. "I just don't understand."

"This first edition of the red guide is a little deceiving and frustrating. How on earth did the pioneer of the fine dining in Shanghai since 2004 Jean Georges not get a star? They have inspired and trained so many young chefs.

"And how can a guide like Michelin list 71 places, including burger joints, and make no mention whatsoever of Franck? I just don't understand. French people are raised from cooking school with the red guide as a bible. Is it still the reference (outside of France)?! I doubt it today, more than ever..."

And there you have it, folks. People ain't happy. But then again, let's give Michelin some credit – they're new around here.

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