Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 13 News List

Reaching for the stars

Michelin recently launched a restaurant guide for Hong Kong and Macau. Does Taiwan, which is more famous for its street food than its fine-dining scene, have what it takes to get its own version of the ‘little red book’?

By Alison Jenner  /  CONTRIBUTING WRITER

CHANGING THE MENU

Why do the stars matter so much?

Having one’s name and restaurant in a Michelin guide, which is viewed as the supreme arbiter of culinary excellence, means not only prestige. It can turn an unknown chef into a wealthy celebrity. For a city to be given a local edition of the “little red book,” as it is colloquially known, is to bestow legitimacy on that city’s fine-dining scene in general.

Food is an important part of the tourism industry in most countries, and Taiwan is no different. A local edition of the red book would lure gourmands to make food pilgrimages here and provide enormous positive publicity for the country. The first edition of the Michelin Guide Tokyo sold out within two days.

A Taiwan edition would also motivate chefs to push for better quality and consistency.

“A chef who gets a star will be encouraged to work harder to keep it. A chef who does not get a star will also work harder in a bid to attain one,” said Chang, who is also the President of the Taiwan Formosa Chefs’ Association (台灣福爾摩莎廚藝美食協會).

At a media event for the launch of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau, Naret let slip that Michelin’s inspectors had, during the assessment process, had anonymous meals at restaurants in Taiwan. With Hong Kong and Macau being the second Asian cities after Tokyo to receive the red book, the question of when Taiwan might receive such an honor beckons.

“Taiwan will only get it after China does,” said Chang, who stopped short of commenting further on the political sensitivities between the two countries.

Naret, for his part, confirmed that the recently launched Hong Kong and Macau guide is “indeed the first step of the guide in China,” although, “It’s surely not the last even if it’s yet too early to say where and when the next edition will be launched.”

Political sensitivities aside, Taiwan has a high chance of getting its own guide, said Naret — although it might have to wait a while.

“Taiwan’s culinary standards are very interesting, as noted by the inspectors after they’ve been there, having anonymous meals in many restaurants,” said Naret. “The cuisine is diverse and very interesting and it’s sure that Taipei is on the map for a Michelin guide. It took 105 years for the guide to cross the Atlantic and launch a guide in New York. It will surely not take another 105 years before we launch a [restaurant] guide in Taipei.”

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