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It’s still Eurocentric, but we need to talk about the lack of female chefs in the Michelin Guide

by: Nik Addams
19 Dec 2019

“Nihao.”

The quotation marks here are neither errant nor gratuitous.

And it’s not your correspondent saying hello to you, either – rather, this was the greeting offered by Gwendall Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guides, at the start of yesterday’s ceremony to announce the latest batch of stars for Hong Kong and Macau.

While no doubt well intended, Poullennec’s Mandarin greeting to a crowd of mainly Cantonese speakers struck entirely the wrong tone, especially in light of Hong Kong’s political unrest over the last six months.

But the greeting is also symbolic of Michelin’s shortcomings. While the dining guide continues to expand globally, it does so in the face of increasing criticism around its Eurocentricity. Saying ‘nihao’ to an audience of Hong Kong and Macanese restaurant personalities doesn’t exactly do anything to make a claim against a steadfastly European view of our part of the world.


This year's Michelin star winners for Hong Kong and Macau – are we sensing a theme here?

You could also extrapolate this symbolism without too much trouble to Michelin’s method of parachuting full-time inspectors into cities about which they might only visit once a year for the sole purpose of putting together the guide. How much of the cities do the reviewers really know?

Not exactly helping the matter is that of the 70 Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong this year, no less than 49 of them are located on Hong Kong island, with just one in the New Territories. If remaining out of touch with what’s happening on the ground is what helps the Guide retain its status in the restaurant industry, this vicious cycle can only perpetuate.

Of course, a lot happened at the nearly two-hour press call beyond the salutation. Stars wise there weren’t any real surprises, save for perhaps the one star handed out to Zest by Konishi. While it’s certainly deserving, the On Lan Street French-Japanese fine diner opened just four months ago. Notable promotions included beloved Cantonese institution Forum rising to the three-star tier, while its neighbour Roganic, by celebrated British chef Simon Rogan, bowed with one star as it nears its first full year of service. Wynn Palace was the big winner in Macau, with André Chiang’s Sichuan Moon and Cantonese establishment Wing Lei Heen both elevated to two stars.

That’s the good news. But out of nearly 100 restaurants to receive at least one star this year from both Hong Kong and Macau, just one is helmed by a woman: brava Vicky Lau, and beautiful dining room Tate.

But back to that number.

One.

Let that sink in for a minute.

How it is possible, or even acceptable, that in the world’s most prestigious dining guide, just one female chef was honoured? In 2020?

Michelin Guide Hong Kong - Vicky Lau Tate
Vicky Lau is the only female chef honoured in this year's edition of the Michelin Guide.

While I should point out that JIA Group, the stable behind one-starred Duddell’s and Louise (the latter a not-exactly-surprising new entry this year), ZS Hospitality, who run two-starred Ying Jee Club, and Tastings Group, backers of one-star VEA, are each headed by women, Michelin is a restaurant award. The photocall at the end of the ceremony was, frankly, a man-fest.

This is not to say that the gents aren’t deserving. And of course, this isn’t just Michelin’s problem. The lack of female representation in this year’s Guide speaks to a wider issue the industry, particularly in Hong Kong, must confront. The restaurant industry, and the F&B scene in general, has made some great strides to break down a lot of the long-held stereotypes and bad behaviours that have increased the barrier to entry for a lot of people in the past, especially women.

We are getting better at ensuring that staff, both front and back of house, are treated better, and are now having more open and honest conversations around this. The toxic boys’ culture of the kitchen is breaking down, and, around the world, more and more women are not just rising to the top ranks of some very good restaurants, but, more importantly, getting the recognition they deserve.

And while in Hong Kong the kitchen gender scales are still tipped significantly in favour of the men, surely this is not at a ratio of 100 to 1.        

So we have to ask the question of Michelin: were they even looking?

Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020: The stars

Three Michelin stars

Caprice
Forum (up from two stars)
Jade Dragon
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Lung King Heen
8 ½ Otto e Mezzo - Bombana (Hong Kong)
Robuchon au Dome
Sushi Shikon
T’ang Court
The Eight

Two Michelin stars

Alain Ducasse at Morpheus
Amber
Arbor (up from one star)
Bo Innovation (down from three stars)
Ecriture
Feng Wei Ju
Golden Flower
Kashiwaya
Mizumi (Macau)
Pierre
Sichuan Moon (new)
Sun Tung Lok
Sushi Saito
Ta Vie
Tenku RyuGin
The Tasting Room
Tin Lung Heen
Wing Lei (up from one star)
Ying Jee Club

One Michelin star

Aaharn (new)
Ah Yat Harbour View
Arcane
Beefbar
Belon
Celebrity Cuisine
Duddell’s
Epure
Fook Lam Moon (Wan Chai) (new)
Fu Ho
Gaddi’s (new)
Guo Fu Lou
Ho Hung Kee (Causeway Bay)
I M Teppanyaki & Wine
Imperial Treasure Fine Chinese Cuisine (Tsim Sha Tsui)
Jardin de Jade (Wan Chai)
Kaiseki Den by Satome
Kam’s Roast Goose
King
Lai Heen
Lei Garden (Kwun Tong)
Lei Garden (Mong Kok)
L’Envol (new)
Liu Yuan Pavilion (new)
Loaf On
Louise (new)
Man Wah
Mandarin Grill + Bar
Ming Court (Mong Kok)
New Punjab Club
8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana (Macau)
Octavium
Pang’s Kitchen
Pearl Dragon
Petrus (new)
Rech
Roganic (new)
Run (new)
Ryota Kappou Modern (new)
Shang Palace
Shinji by Kanesaka
Spring Moon
Summer Palace
Sushi Wadatsumi
Takumi by Daisuke Mori
Tate
The Golden Peacock
The Kitchen
Tim Ho Wan (Sham Shui Po)
Tim’s Kitchen
Tosca di Angelo
VEA
Xin Rong Ji
Yan Toh Heen
Yat Lok
Yat Tung Heen
Ye Shanghai (Tsim Sha Tsui)
Ying
Zest by Konshi (new)
Zhejiang Heen
Zi Yat Heen

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