The Michelin Co on Wednesday last week launched its first restaurant guide for Taipei, with 20 restaurants snagging a total of 24 stars. Along with 36 local eateries that the French publisher listed on its Bib Gourmand selection for Taipei a week earlier, the famous guide is expected to benefit Taiwan’s tourism sector, especially in Taipei, and boost the global standing of the nation’s food culture.
The news that some of the restaurants that earned stars have become fully booked for months since the release of Michelin Guide Taipei is evidence of the guide’s immediate effects. Although there are other fine-dining guides, such as the Gambero Rosso and The Miele Guide, Michelin remains by far the gold standard and the most referenced by food lovers around the world.
Taipei is the 30th city whose restaurants have been noted in the French tire maker’s famous red books. This is the result of years of effort by the Tourism Bureau, which hopes its five-year sponsorship with Michelin can help local restaurants to enhance their culinary skills and win the hard-earned stars, while burnishing Taiwan’s image in international tourism and putting the nation on the culinary world map.
In practical terms, the launching of Michelin Guide Taipei is testament to the high level of worldwide recognition that the nation’s tourism industry has received in recent years.
First, the annual number of visitors has grown to more than 10 million since 2015, doubling in a decade, with most tourists being drawn to Taiwan by its food and generosity.
Second, a number of local restaurants have invited chefs who have won Michelin stars to cook at their establishments, which has not only enriched customers’ dining experiences, but also allowed the guest chefs to pass on their recipes and cooking skills to local staff.
Third, more than 10 Michelin-rated restaurants have opened branches in Taiwan, showing that the market is becoming more supportive of high-end restaurants.
The nation’s food culture has shown that it can become more stylish and upscale, in line with international standards, and Michelin’s Taipei guide reinforces this goal. Moreover, the recognition from Michelin will boost food and beverage sales at local restaurants as they vie for the right to call themselves the best dining venue in Taiwan.
At the same time, it is likely to encourage more people to pursue culinary careers and aspire to the top echelon of the cooking world, which would benefit not only the restaurant business and the tourism industry, but also the nation’s economy as a whole.
There is a dark side to everything, such as the pressure that Michelin-rated restaurants feel in trying to maintain their stars or gain more. This persistent pressure means relentless preparation in the face of surprise visits by Michelin inspectors and malicious comments from food critics, aspects of the award that have caused some celebrity chefs to ask the publisher not to review their restaurants, or simply to take away their stars.
Winning the highest accolade in the restaurant business could also bring other unexpected challenges, such as landlords levying enormous rent increases, a need to increase headcounts while maintaining quality and the difficulty of maximizing table turnover rates while making sure that diners do not feel rushed.
Some might want to be liberated from that pressure, while others might still consider the quest for Michelin stars their goal in life.
However, for Taiwan, the recognition from Michelin reflects the effort of local restaurants to improve the quality of their services, and shows the role that the government can play in transforming the nation’s tourism industry.
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