You’d almost forget that the world’s most influential restaurant guide started with a marketing idea from a tire company. Around 1900, there weren’t many cars, less than 3,000 in France for example. So Michelin started publishing maps and guides to provide helpful information to drivers and make them do more trips; because more trips mean more tire usage. This idea has gradually evolved into a restaurant guide that can make or break the careers and reputations of chefs and restaurants around the world. The Michelin Guide currently assesses 30,000 establishments in more than 35 territories.
In case you were wondering how they rank restaurants in the guide, here is the definition of stars: restaurants with one star are “very good in their category”, two stars are “worth a visit” and three stars are “worth a visit”. . journey”. Which means, get in your car and take this trip.
The Guide started in France, then in Europe of course, but over the years it has expanded to South and North America, the Middle East and Asia. Surprisingly, Japan, not France, has the most Michelin-starred restaurants per inhabitant. The only other Asian country in the top 15 is Singapore, which ranks 7th in the world with no less than 52 Michelin-starred restaurants and three of them are… well worth browsing.
So how did Singapore get there? How did they develop 52 Michelin starred restaurants and 197 other restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide? There’s even a peddler’s stand that had one-star status for a few years. We caught up with John Gregory Conceicao, Executive Director Southeast Asia of the Singapore Tourism Board STB, to find out what they’ve been cooking up in Singapore.
How Singapore caught the attention of the Michelin Guide
“The very nature of Singapore being a port city means that throughout our history we have attracted a confluence of influences. You have people from the Malay world of course and then you have Chinese, Indian and Arab influences. Later, Europeans came: the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. So you have this little island with so many influences, and I think we evolved, and that kind of fusion led to what we call today ‘reinvent food‘. Because Chinese food is not really the same in Singapore as it is in China, the same with Indian food etc.
“The fact that as a country we had to survive, because we were small and without resources, created a kind of atmosphere and environment that lends itself to creativity and innovation. This then translates into our food offerings. When you have that kind of creativity and innovation, it makes you a little more distinct. The Michelin Awards came naturally and Michelin wanted to focus on what we have, be it our food or be it our drinks.
What is behind the ambition, especially in terms of food, to bring it to these high levels?
“I think passion, hard work, effort, ambition is in our DNA. We are meticulous in how we get things done and how we approach everything we do. We put 100% of our passion because people like us, we always want to be number 1, we are ‘kiasu’ Because if you really need to survive, you really need to make sure that you are moving in the right direction and allow yourself to achieve what you really want to achieve. And again, because we’re small, you always want to be the best. That translates into everything we do as a country. It’s the same with the food scene. If you look at our Chefs and Mixologists, everything was born out of their passion and their struggle, because if you want to survive in the food industry, if you want to survive in the entertainment industry, you will have a hard time because there has so many things against you. Especially in a country like Singapore where parents want their children to be professionals like a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. and that they do not enter the food and beverage industry. So people fight because they have a passion and when they succeed… they really succeed.
Investment is essential to achieve ambition; where does the investment come from? Government?
“I don’t think the government gets involved in that kind of investment. When it comes to investing, market forces work. I think people who want to invest in a particular restaurant, a particular chef, when they see that kind of passion and they know there’s an opportunity, then they invest. I think if you look at the big restaurants that got awards, they got investments from food groups. »
“The role of government is to support the industry in general. Through systems, funding and advice. The government funds up to 70% in Singapore, if you want to adopt technology in F&B. This support is important. If you look at a lot of restaurants in Singapore, you will see self-service scanners and QR codes for ordering, this will contribute to the labor shortage. Some people prefer to have the human touch of a service staff, but today people are tech-savvy and efficiency is also important. If people could order food using technology, they would.
Talent is so important; how did Singapore attract and nurture all these talents?
“The culinary scene is attractive because there is creativity; and attracts young people. Young people may be saying that I don’t want to go down the proven path in professions like law, engineering, and medicine and that I’m going to do something more interesting. Because I’ve seen this Michelin starred restaurant, I’ve seen Master Chef and it looks pretty cool for young people to cook. The whole industry is considered attractive because it is considered glamorous; but behind the scenes, of course, you really have to work really hard. So I think that attracts people and talent to an industry that otherwise struggles and sweats. Perceived glamor is very important in attracting people to the industry. So it is. It’s the top of the line in the industry.
“Then we look at peddlers and their next generation. You have “heritage foods” that families pass down to their children. But children also innovate, they use technology to innovate. Government programs and schools in Singapore, Culinary Schools, are training the next generation of people to take over running hawker stalls. They may have chosen traditional foods that they want to focus on, but they want to make them more innovative. So the noodles…instead of using the normal noodles, they use pasta or they use some kind of Japanese noodles. And that’s how things are going to go in a country where innovation matters, and you can apply that to Hawker food as well.
About 30 years ago, your former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, complained publicly that there was no creativity in Singapore, and he said that there had to be chaos for there to be of creativity. What happened from then on? What do you think happened in Singapore that led to all this creativity?
“Personally, I think it’s organic. It is very difficult to conceive of creativity. I think globalization, you can’t stop globalization. Singaporeans travel and they see things happening outside, come back and they want those things they see outside and if there is demand then supply will come somehow another one. So, first, people travel. Secondly, Singapore, as I mentioned to you, by its nature as a port city, attracted this type of globalization, attracted this type of influence which then engendered creativity.
Do you think Singaporean cuisine can travel like Chinese and Thai cuisine, because obviously when your culture travels the world, you become more influential?
“We’re small and to have Singaporean restaurants in their Singaporean form around the world, I don’t think we’re going to cause Thai food to explode. There is a Thai restaurant on every street corner in Europe or the United States. But what we have is Singapore’s most innovative style, Mod-Sin kind of food, where we manage to merge local things with global things, and showcase them.
Does the fusion attitude come from the Peranakan culture that you have, which is intrinsically linked to fusion?
“I don’t think it’s just Peranakan, of course we always talk about Peranakan being a fusion of Malay, Chinese and a bit of western. I think there’s a lot of Singaporean food that has merged and reinvented. Like the food that Labyrinth offers, a Michelin star restaurant. I think LG Han has done a good job of reinventing Singapore Hawker food to the point where it has become a “modern Singapore” type of food. His Bak Chor Mee was squid-based, the Char Keow Teow is fish-based and that’s interesting and innovative on its own, it’s very Singaporean, it put a totally different spin on the way he prepares his noodle dishes, but it’s not just that….. because I think 80% of the food he serves is locally sourced, the fish, the milk, the produce, everything is local. that’s where this movement is right now.
Final words on talent in Singapore, what can you say we haven’t covered today?
“Talk to them! I think they have a passion story that would encompass some elements of Singapore wrestling, we always talk about how we have to wrestle because we were small and had no resources, and those people struggled and then when they did, everyone wants a piece of that.”
We’ll take John’s advice, so look for more articles on Singaporean talent in the food and drink industry.