Dear Singapore, what a year it’s been!
Thanks a lot for once again being such gracious hosts. I’m writing this as I wait to board my flight back home, and with the amazing service here in the SIA business class lounge, I feel like I’m in the perfect mood to share my thoughts on this year’s proceedings.
So here goes.
I am not Singaporean. When the Michelin Guide first arrived in 2016, many Singaporeans took issue with the fact that ‘outsiders’ were now pretending to know local food.
I understand. Really, I do.
However, I come from a richly diverse background. Back in my family’s estate in Bordeaux, I am constantly around people of different nationalities and social classes. Whether it’s our driver or our gardener, I am never not interacting with other cultures.
As such, I want everyone to know that my perspective is extremely valuable. Thanks also to Michelin, I’ve stayed in hotels all over the world. I am both an experienced eater and traveler. I have had countless opportunities to enjoy the food and pleasures of most countries in Europe.
How can one then argue that I do not know Asian food? Sure, it was only very recently that I began to visit places like Seoul, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, when their tourism boards invited us with the promise of extremely lucrative collaborations.
But while I know very little when it comes to Asian cuisine, I refuse to see this as a disadvantage.
In fact, it puts me in a unique position to help locals see their own food in a new light. Take Hawker Chan for example. Were the queues there before we gave him his star? Not at all! Now look what’s happened.
On that note, you must be disappointed that no new hawkers received Michelin stars this year. And our explanation for this is simple: as much as we love how clean and green this country is, Singapore, your weather is atrocious!
I come from a temperate country. I’ve lived in a temperate country most of my life. Where I come from, we do not do quick, sweaty lunches in the company of flying rats.
So am I saying that we didn’t bother at all with hawker food this year? No, I’m not. I’m just saying that it was way too uncomfortable to eat in any of your hawker centres this year.
Marinating in my own perspiration while fending off wildlife? No thanks.
While I truly admire how Asians have endured everything from colonisation to World War II, I would never recommend hawker dining to fellow well-heeled travellers. Nevermind that the Michelin guide is meant for these guys. It’s just too warm.
In any case, even Singaporeans can’t agree amongst themselves what good or bad Hokkien Mee is. How can we? I would never presume to tell locals what’s good or bad about their own food! Personally, however, I like the Hokkien Mee that you find at every stall in Golden Mile Complex.
The oily lemongrass flavour just works, and I love the fresh lime and beansprouts. Bonus points for the vibes too!
But let’s focus on the good news. 5 new restaurants got stars this year. How great is that?
Many of you have been patronising these restaurants for a long time now, so you can now tell all your friends, “I told you so!” and bask in the happy delusion that you too have the finest taste buds in the world.
For everyone else who might be hearing of these places for the first time, don’t worry. Now that they’ve won stars, they will be packed out for the next few months. They will be perpetually slammed, they will struggle with achieving consistent quality, and their staff will be stressed out.
But if nothing else, they will be grateful, and this brings me much joy. If a chef does not live for his Michelin star, what does he live for?
There is no greater privilege I can think of than being a chef who has to defend his Michelin star on a daily basis. We have a saying in my country: you can’t make diamonds without pressure.
In the meantime, I look forward to being back next year. I’ve been hearing a lot about this thing called ‘prata’, which is supposed to be some sort of a delicious Asian crepe? I’m not too convinced though. If it’s inspired by the French, then surely the French still do it better!
But I’ll keep an open mind. I always have anyway.
As a closing note, I just want to say that my experiences of the past 3 years have made it clear: having seen how much of your local cuisine is either borrowed or stolen, I now have complete faith that Singaporeans have found a way to put their own unique spin on food. Nothing you and your people make can possibly be as bad as it sounds.
Singapore will always have a special place in my heart. If not for the food, then for how well I’m treated everywhere I go.
Until next year!