Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City now on the Michelin map

June 12, 2023 | 12:00
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As some restaurants in Vietnam were awarded Michelin stars for the first time, high hopes are set for the country’s food and restaurant scene. Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, talked to VIR’s Linh Dan about the selection criteria and Michelin’s positive outlook for Vietnam’s culinary landscape.

What led to Michelin’s decision to expand its operations to Vietnam this year, and what were the most challenging aspects of curating the list?

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City now on the Michelin map
Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide

Our inspectors have been in Vietnam for several years already to monitor the evolution of the country’s culinary landscape, and we felt that it reached a level of maturity and consistency to move forward and publish the very first Michelin Guide recommendations.

The biggest challenge for Michelin when making a very first selection is to leave no stone unturned. There are so many restaurants, and we have to make sure that we sufficiently explored both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In the long run, another challenge will be to ensure that the selection remains constantly fresh, relevant, and up to date. So, there will be a lot of work to do to follow up with the dynamism of the local culinary scene.

Overall, our inspectors have been very pleased with their job in Vietnam, selecting carefully the very best places to eat. They were seduced by the very healthy approach to the cuisine – sometimes bold, sometimes sophisticated. Because we have within Michelin Guide an enormous selection, both luxury fine dining restaurants and small casual eateries, the inspectors were amazed by the diversity and creativity of the styles of cooking being represented.

There is also an impressive number of young chefs working in the industry, pushing the boundaries of what Vietnamese cuisine is today. Based on all these factors, we can definitely say that the future of the Vietnamese culinary industry is very bright.

Following the release of the list, there were suggestions that certain restaurants were overrated, while other deserving establishments were overlooked. How does the Michelin Guide address these concerns and maintain objectivity and transparency in its selection process?

I’m very pleased to hear that there are a lot of conversations around Michelin’s first selection in Vietnam. By all means, they do contribute to the awareness of the industry about Vietnamese cuisine, not only here, but also abroad.

On the other hand, the Michelin Guide is unique and independent in the way we select teams or restaurants. That’s the reason why our inspectors work full-time for Michelin and remain undercover and anonymous. This is to ensure that there is no compromise or bias. In addition, to recognise all the different food styles, we involve several different inspectors to assess the quality of the same restaurant.

Ultimately, the decision of the Michelin Guide is not a one-man show – it’s always a team decision. Our inspectors’ recommendations only reflect their own experience as a guest, without taking into account what is shared on social networks. The value of recommendation is the same everywhere in the world, so one star in London, Paris, or Tokyo is the same as one star in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. This is to ensure fairness and to provide our readers with recommendations they can trust.

In certain cases, Michelin-starred restaurants have experienced a decline in quality after receiving their accolades, which can often be seen as both an advantage and a pressure for these establishments. What is your perspective on this?

One important feature of the Michelin Guide is consistency. If the level of experience offered to customers is not the same, over time, the restaurant will be removed from the selection. That’s a way to ensure that we foster positive regulation within the industry and contribute to amplifying customer experience.

The Michelin Guide does not work for restaurants – it works for food lovers. An example of this would be the story of the very first sushi restaurant in Japan to receive three stars. A lot of success followed. But a few years ago, there was a change in its admission policy. To get a seat as a customer, you have to be on a shortlist, almost like a private club. As this street-style restaurant was not available any longer to the public, our inspectors removed it from our selection.

What are Michelin’s long-term goals for elevating Vietnam’s culinary industry?

I believe after last week’s unveiling of the first Michelin list, there will be plenty of ripple effects. For one, it will help restaurants and chefs attract more loyal staff and young, talented people willing to join the industry. Hopefully, it will encourage them to be more daring, more creative, and express their own personality.

In addition, the Michelin Guide selection is putting Vietnam and Vietnamese cuisine on the global culinary map. Vietnam, as a destination, will attract the attention of not only international food lovers but also chefs from all around the world who could be interested in establishing restaurants here.

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By Linh Dan

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional