On January 22, the 2013 Miele Guide to the best restaurants in Asia was launched in Singapore. This guide, now in its fifth year, is part of a larger trend to redress the balance between Asia and the West as regards accurate and objective listings of places that serve excellent food. Taiwan may not have made it into the coveted ranks of the Top 20 list of restaurants, but 20 are listed among the 500 recommended restaurants from 17 countries around the region.
Restaurant listings are nothing new, with the venerable Michelin guide (the one that today awards those coveted stars) dating back to the start of last century. Asia though, has been, until very recently, very much on the fringe. But with an increasing number of outstanding chefs emerging from Asia, a greater respect for non-European culinary traditions, and of course the region’s growing wealth, Asia can no longer be ignored by serious foodies.
One of the greatest challenges faced by publications like The Miele Guide is the sheer diversity of cuisines that can be found in the region, as well as widely varying ideas of what constitutes an outstanding food experience. While the original Michelin guide mostly considers establishments at the very top end of the market, The Miele Guide aims for something a little more democratic.
Speaking with the Taipei Times last week, Aun Koh, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Ate Group and Co-Founder of The Miele Guide, described the scope of the publication.
“We publish a guide that isn’t just about fine dining. That is one of the problems that we have to overcome when we are introducing ourselves to people for the first time … We draw the line at hawker stalls. This is a guide for restaurants. You need to have four walls, but restaurants [listed in the guide] can take all kinds of forms. Our mix ranges from really grubby but amazing food kinda places to super popular classic family places to the high-end gastronomic temples,” Koh said.
This democratic approach applies to the selection process as well. There are four rounds of judging, the first being the creation of a shortlist of best restaurants as determined by the region’s top restaurant critics and food writers. The second and third rounds are an online poll in which the public and a jury of food and hospitality professionals, along with prominent food lovers, will be invited to cast their votes. Only for the selection of the Top 20 does the guide send out anonymous inspectors in the manner of the original Michelin Guide.
The public is also allowed to make nominations. According to Aun, this year, such nominations numbered nearly 800, greatly expanding the shortlist. The total pool of restaurants that was voted on numbered 1,500 restaurants. In the voting, more than 22,000 members of the public logged on to The Miele Guide Web site to vote, this in addition to a jury numbering around 15,000, mostly, but not exclusively based in Asia.
This democratic model for selection means that the selection in The Miele Guide can be very fluid. Put another way, Aun said that the guide provides a snapshot of what restaurants are trending in the region.
This method of selection may deprive The Miele Guide of the kind of heft of the Michelin uide, but it still provides even well-established names with valuable recognition and exposure.