Michelin in Seoul: Disaster Guaranteed? (1)


I still have not lost any bit of interest to mock those who overreacted to the publish of Michelin Green Guide Korea. Hey, it is just a tour guide: the real one is Red, and even that is not as good as you think. They didn’t listen anyway. Even the minority who had recognized the difference, tended to be mistaken; it is OK to regard the green is the precursor to the Red, but that doesn’t mean the situation is ripe. They can test the waters with the Green, but that doesn’t mean the Red will come out any time soon. Even if Michelin really wanted to.

Finally, they seem to be determined. Recently the news has broken out that the red guide to be published next year(*). The inspectors would visit Seoul (or entire country) to eat the food and grade restaurants. Even though I am not really interested in them, it is not so hard to hear the whisper that they have mulled over. More than anything, Michelin guide is a business. They pursue the profit. All the arguments about its value in Seoul should be focused on that. However, people tend to forget. Some truly believe that it is the culinary savior puts Korea on the coordinates of gastronomy excellence, neighboring France, United States, or Japan (Italia doesn’t care about it anyway).

Is it really possible? Once again, let me reiterate: Michelin Guide is a business, and a failing one. The decline of the guide is not even news these days; it has been well-chronicled throughout media since 2000s. There have been several well-known scandals tarnishing the guide’s reputation, such as Bernard Loiseau’s suicide over the demotion of the restaurant(2003, La Côte d’Or, from three to two star), Pascal Remy’s confession that undermined the credibility of inspection (2004, L’Inspecteur se met à table: not many inspections, too many restaurants to cover, etc), and more recent news of their financial loss up to $24 million(Up to $30 million in 2015).

Simply put, Michelin’s decline is chronic; culinary world no longer depends on a single source to discern excellence. Today, the world is much more complicated than 1920s when they first issued the stars. Competition is getting fiercer, and the guide is always an easy target when new competitor arises. Why not targeting number one, just to get attention? To some extent, it seems even natural that the guide has lost its luster and power gradually. For more than three quarters of the century, it had depended the throne well. That is more than enough.

You need put all these on perspective when understanding their attempt to enter Korean culinary landscape. Why Korea? First, they are kind of desperate. The sustainability, or even survival is their priority now. They have to find ways, either developing the new market, or putting new item into the coordinates of their star system. The latter is easier. You can always shift focus to more ethnic or domestic cuisine, not just limited to western. I see the one star awarded Tsuta, the first Michelin ramenya in Japan is the example of the latter case.

But the former, finding viable market is more difficult. More than anything, it should have certain scale, to be a global tourist attraction with self-sustaining, diverse culinary landscape. In other words, the bigger the city, the better for the guide. That is why not all the cities with reputation of culinary relevance don’t have their own Michelin, or just the one with national coverage. With over 10 million of population and metropolitan area, Seoul seems to fit the bill, right?

Not really. I believe scale itself can attract the guide, but Seoul is neither a genuine tourist attraction nor the epitome of diverse and thriving culinary scene. In essence, it is just a densely populated city with poor culinary heritage. I suspect the guide has known it all along, and that is why it has been hesitant. In short, they don’t see the opportunity valuable, up until now. If they have really decided, I can’t help but regarding that as the sign of true desperation.

-To be continued

7 Responses

  1. Y (@epcsx) says:

    밑의 세 문단이 두번 들어가 있네요.

    글은 잘 보았습니다- 이어질 글도 기다리겠습니다.

  2. JeantheAlien says:

    Granted I think Michelin guide is GROSSLY overrated especially now that it’s stretching itself really thin, “it is just a densely populated city with poor culinary heritage.” was so on point. This is definitely a recipe for disaster…

  3. Hayabusa says:

    글 잘봤습니다.
    미슐랭은 식당을 고르는 수단 중 하나가 될 순 있지만, 너무 미슐랭 별에 기댈 필요는 없다고 생각합니다.
    물론 이미지 관리에는 도움이 되겠죠. 또한 소위 파인다이닝 찾아다니는 맛집블로거들은 좋아할지도 모르겠지만요.

    사실 일본도 검색해보면, 미슐랭 별 없지만 갈만한 스시야(1만엔~), 카이세키, 클래식 프렌치 레스토랑 등도 제법 있습니다. (타베로그라는 일본 구루메 사이트만 봐도 그런 식당들이 나와있죠.)

    저도 예전에 블마님이 말한대로, 평양냉면집 한 곳은 별이 나올 수 있다고 생각합니다.
    덧붙여, 미슐랭 레드가 과연 한식 발전에 얼마나 기여할지, 그 영향이 무엇일지, 장기적으로 한 번 지켜보는 것도 괜찮다고 생각합니다.

    *참고로 미슐랭 1스타 토쿄 라멘집 “츠타”는, “세계 최초”가 아니라, “일본 최초의 미슐랭 별을 받은 라멘집”입니다. 세계 최초로 미슐랭 별을 받은 라멘집은 홍콩의 MIST라는 가게라고 하네요. (홍콩판 2011년 미슐랭 1스타 받음)

    *아래 내용은 원래 “레스토랑의 술 주문 문제” 글에 써야할 내용이지만, 그 쪽 글의 댓글들 내용이 너무 짜증나서 여기로 우회해서 씁니다. 양해 바랍니다.

    저번에 그 문제가 된, “파인다이닝 식당에서의 술 주문 글”을 보고 생각난게 있습니다.
    청담동에 “트라토리아 미토” 라는 이탈리안 식당에서, 매주 화/수 와인페어링 디너를 실시한다고 합니다.

    (마침 식당에서의 술 주문 논란이 있었던 전후 시점에서!)

    여건이 되시면, 와인페어링 디너할 때 다녀오고, 올리브 매거진과 블로그 등에서 이와 관련된 글을 써주시는 것도 어떨지 제안하고 싶습니다.
    그 곳의 음식과 와인은 물론, 잔단위 술 주문 혹은 와인페어링 시도가 많이 낯선 한국 파인다이닝에서 이러한 시도가 어떤 의미를 주는지 등등 말이죠. 음식평론을 업으로 삼는 입장에서 여러가지 담론을 형성하는 등, 글 쓰는데 많은 도움이 되실거라 생각합니다.

    다만 그저께 막 시작했을 뿐만 아니라, 2인 이상만 가능해, 동행자를 같이 모집해서 가는 편이 좋습니다.
    (나중에 이 시도의 결과가 좋으면 혼자오는 분들도 받겠지만요…)

    (파스타로 유명한데, 원래 그 식당도, 페어링은 5인 이상만 가능했고, 잔단위 주문은 하우스와인만 가능했습니다.)

    (참고로 저는 그 식당에서 일하는 사람 아닙니다. 그 가게에 가끔씩 방문하는 고객일 뿐입니다. 오해하지 않으셨으면 합니다.)

    내용이 많이 길었는데, 앞으로도 좋은 글들 잘 부탁드립니다. 항상 응원하고 있겠습니다.

    • Hayabusa says:

      아 참. 까먹은게 있네요.
      흑시 그 곳을 가신다면, 그리고 그 때 셰프님이랑 대화할 수 있는 시간이 있으시다면, 한국 내 레스토랑에서 술 주문이나 잔술 판매 혹은 와인페어링 시도 등에 대한 얘기도 한 번 해보시는 것도 권합니다.

  1. 01/22/2016


  2. 02/24/2016

    […] with a month of hiatus(if you cannot remember the discussion, please read previous installments: 1 & 2). Yes, it was about candidacy: how the restaurants in Seoul would fare if the guide […]

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