A MICHELIN moment in Vancouver

Allen Ren, Andrea Carlson, Patrick Hennessy, Mijune Pak / Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

An hour before the 2023 MICHELIN Guide to Vancouver was revealed on October 5, the ballroom at the Fairmont Pacific Rim thrummed with excitement and nerves.

The city’s restaurant community had gathered to learn who would be going home sparkling with MICHELIN star dust. Those who were not recognized in 2022, MICHELIN’s first year in Vancouver, were anxious to see how a year’s work had paid off. Those who were honoured last year were even more anxious because they knew it’s harder to keep a star than it is to earn it in the first place — let alone earn a second star.

The rest of us were simply there to exchange hugs, catch up on the latest dish and enjoy the dazzle of MICHELIN, which after more than 120 years is still the world’s most important restaurant awards.

Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Since it arrived in Vancouver, MICHELIN has helped showcase this city’s exceptional dining scene to the rest of the world. It has given our best chefs breathing space. It has recognized what we do best, from our quality local ingredients to our deft way with international flavours. It hasn’t changed the scene so much as it has defined it.

But a year later, MICHELIN is still a mystery to many of us. Here is what you really need to know.

A guide to the world

MICHELIN is at once a travel guide, a restaurant rating system and, yes, a tire company.

In 1900, two French brothers, Andre and Edouard Michelin, were looking for a way to increase sales for their tire business. They came up with the first MICHELIN travel guide, a small red book designed to help drivers find lodging, restaurants and service stations across the country.

Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

In 1926, the guide began awarding single stars to fine-dining establishments; five years later, that changed to a hierarchy of one star for a restaurant worth stopping for, two stars for a restaurant worth a detour and three stars for one that is a destination in itself.

Today the ratings remain virtually unchanged, but the MICHELIN Guides have expanded dramatically.

They include new categories, such as Bib Gourmands, which recognize both quality and value — the kind of places where MICHELIN inspectors would dine on their own dime — as well as Green Stars for eco-friendly establishments and countless “recommended” restaurants, too.

Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

MICHELIN now rates more than 40,000 establishments in over 24 territories across three continents, including, as of 2022, Canada. Last September, Toronto became the first Canadian city in the guide, joined by Vancouver a month later, when 40 restaurants made the “recommended” list, 12 took home Bib Gourmands and eight were awarded one MICHELIN star apiece.

“Our teams of inspectors genuinely savoured their dining experiences in Vancouver,” Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the MICHELIN Guides, said at the time. “They were very impressed with the city’s gastronomic dynamism. The selection — from stars to Bib Gourmands to the recommended spots — are all appealing in their own authentic DNA, and very diverse offers.”

Vancouver 2023, part one

In year two of MICHELIN in Vancouver, the first awards announced were the special ones recognizing individuals, and the audience erupted in heartfelt applause for some of the best-loved members of their community.

The thoughtful, inventive Warren Chow of Wildlight Kitchen + Bar won the inaugural MICHELIN Young Chef Award. SUYO’s bartending magician Max Curzon-Price won the Exceptional Cocktails Award, while Kelcie Jones of Burdock & Co. took home the Sommelier Award, recognition for her passion for all things wine. And the front-of-house team at Okeya Kyujiro, a chic new omakase-style restaurant in Yaletown, was recognized with the Outstanding Service Award for what the guide describes as “a memorable show from start to finish.”

Nikhil Ondhia, Warren Chow / Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Next up, the Bib Gourmands, which comprise some of the city’s best-loved insider secrets. They saw five new additions this year: Farmer’s Apprentice, Karma Indian Bistro, Motonobu Udon, Seaport City Seafood and Sushi Hil.

The 2023 Bib Gourmand recipients / Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

And then the 12 new “MICHELIN Recommended” restaurants, which included both longtime favourites like Bao Bei and Boulevard as well as newcomers Archer, SUYO and Wildlight Kitchen + Bar.

In the ballroom, the anticipation grew. Would there be any new stars? Would anyone lose a star? Or maybe someone would get a second star this year? Speculation rippled through the crowd as we waited for the biggest news of the night.

The secrets of MICHELIN

What sets MICHELIN apart from so many other dining awards is how little anyone really knows about the process, which is a pretty big secret to keep for 120 years.

No one knows who the inspectors are. No one gets a sneak peek at the winners’ list, not even Destination Vancouver or any of the eager media outlets. No one even knows what the criteria are.

Well, sort of.

There is plenty of speculation and rumour, of course. It is said that only restaurants that serve tasting menus will be awarded a star. Or that only formal fine dining is recognized. Or that the dining room has to offer stools for purses, or that gentlemen must wear jackets.

None of that is true. (For one thing, among the inspectors’ favourite dishes in Vancouver were a giant soup dumpling from Chef’s Choice Chinese Cuisine and a prawn fritter from Lunch Lady, neither of which is exactly fancy dining.)

MICHELIN itself states that: “One MICHELIN Star is awarded to restaurants using top quality ingredients, where dishes with distinct flavours are prepared to a consistently high standard.”

“Two MICHELIN Stars are awarded when the personality and talent of the chef are evident in their expertly crafted dishes; their food is refined and inspired.”

“Three MICHELIN Stars is our highest award, given for the superlative cooking of chefs at the peak of their profession; their cooking is elevated to an art form and some of their dishes are destined to become classics.”

So. What does that mean for Vancouver?

Vancouver 2023, part two

As emcee Mijune Pak read out the winners of one MICHELIN star on October 5, a sigh of relief swept through the ballroom.

Nobody lost a star. One new restaurant was added to the list — Okeya Kyujiro, which clearly made the inspectors swoon— bringing the total to nine.

Okeya Kyujiro / Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

The city’s 9 one-MICHELIN-starred restaurants for 2023 are: Annalena, Barbara, Burdock & Co., iDen & QuanJuDe Beijing Duck House, Kissa Tanto, Masayoshi, Okeya Kyujiro, Published on Main and St. Lawrence. In total, that means 77 restaurants were recognized in 2023, up from 60 in 2022, showcasing 21 different types of cuisine.

Whether their restaurants received a Star, a Bib Gourmand, or were Recommended, the chefs themselves were beaming, hugging their friends, their staff, each other, delighted to share this joyful moment with their peers.

For them, MICHELIN means recognition for their hard work, both locally and internationally. It also means a certain level of security in a volatile industry, especially during its wobbly pos-pandemic recovery. It means a goal to reach, a quality to maintain, a standard to set for themselves and their staff.

Vishal Kumar, Sean Reeve / Photo Credit: Zach Hilty/BFA.com

For guests, meanwhile, it is assurance, knowing that their dining experience will include the best ingredients, service and skills the city can provide.

“The famously anonymous MICHELIN Guide inspectors once again were impressed with the culinary community here,” Poullennec said, following the awards ceremony. “This sort of steady growth is what we often see in second-year selections, and it is definitely a harbinger of great things to come.”

He added: “We are very proud of the passionate chefs and restaurant teams here in Vancouver, and they make their city very proud.”

For the full list of MICHELIN-recognized restaurants in Vancouver, go to the website. Or download the mobile app).

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