For the first time, the prestigious food guide will give recognition to top culinary talents in Malaysia

Considering the richness of its cuisine, some would argue that it's long overdue but better late than never: Michelin Guide will finally come out with a list for Malaysia. For its debut here, the guide will focus on Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

What started out as a guide for motorists in 1900 in France has grown to become a prestigious name in the culinary world, its guides often referenced by travellers and gourmands. The restaurants are assessed anonymously by a team of trained inspectors based on the following criteria:

  • Quality of the ingredients
  • Mastery of cooking
  • Harmony of flavours
  • Personality of the chef through the cuisine
  • Consistency over time and across the entire menu

The restaurants will be rated one ["worth a stop"], two ["worth a detour], or three stars ["worth a special journey"]. The Michelin Guide currently covers over 30 destinations; in Southeast Asia, so far only Singapore and Thailand have their own guides.

See also: Chef Mano Thevar on Running a Michelin-Starred Restaurant

"The upcoming selection will unveil a new page in Asia's gastronomic prowess, spotlighting the wonders of Malaysian cuisine, and the abundance of homegrown culinary talents," says Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide. "Kuala Lumpur and Penang have their own unique characteristics which benefit a variety of diners locally and abroad."

He elaborates that being the nation's economic hub, "Kuala Lumpur is a fast-moving city flocked with sizeable venues, independent restaurants, and new inspirations for gastronomy. [Meanwhile] Penang is a gastronomic hotbed of small-scale restaurants and street food that embodies Malaysia's distinctive streetside dining culture."

Michelin Guide Kuala Lumpur and Penang 2023 will be unveiled in December 2022, with the full list to be published on its website and its app.

Tatler speaks to Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin, Michelin experiences director of communications, to find out more about the mechanics of the guide and its expansion to Malaysia. 

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Above Ooi Chok Yan, Roslan Abdullah, YB Yeoh Soon Hin, MICHELIN Bibendum, Prichapakorn Dangrojana, Chryseis Tan, Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin, SM Faliq SM Nasimuddin and Chris Gledhill at the announcement of Michelin Guide's debut in Malaysia

Why did Michelin decide it was the right time to announce its presence in Malaysia?

During the last few years, we have been monitoring the local food scene in Malaysia. Inspectors felt the culinary scene was reaching a good level of maturity before the pandemic. 

In cities where the guide is not yet present, inspectors scout and regularly visit restaurants, ensuring to highlight culinary scenes that are moving forward. Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, decided it was the right time to cover Kuala Lumpur and Penang. 

Since then, the inspection team has been browsing and testing restaurants, trying to get a feel of the scene and understand local behaviour. We think the maturity of the scene is now high and consistent.

See also: A Food Lover’s Guide to Kuching, Sarawak

How long has the inspection team been in Malaysia? 

Including the pandemic, years! The idea was to make sure no stone was left unturned. We visited well-known restaurants and searched for hidden gems. It takes time to settle the first selection, which will then be re-evaluated every year with new restaurants added.

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How do you think the presence of the Michelin Guide will impact the local food scene? 

In other destinations that have the presence of the Michelin Guide, the community of chefs has become one. They gather every year around an event, seeing one another, and discovering places they may never have been. There is also a healthy emulation in the industry at different levels. 

The Michelin Guide puts the spotlight on the best and most interesting eateries, attracting talent. When there’s a staff shortage, it also affects how people choose where they want to work. 

More recently, sustainable gastronomy is one of the key highlights. Chefs and teams have moved forward, rethinking cooking techniques, and avoiding waste while putting seasonality at the forefront. We decided to create a dedicated award for sustainability, the Green Star, which will celebrate its third birthday in January 2023. This is for the pioneers who make sustainability the gastronomy of tomorrow.

See also: On the Pass with Mandy Goh, Executive Chef at The RuMa Hotel and Residences

How do you ensure that local nuances and palates are accounted for in each city? 

We have a very diverse, international team of inspectors with Asian, South American, North American, and European backgrounds, representing the whole world. Everyone has their own sensitivities and food they grew up with. We push experts to be able to feel the taste of proper sushi, bœuf bourguignon, vongole, and so on. This is important as we are trying to set an international benchmark. 

A star is worth the same in every place in the world due to the fact there is only one international inspection team. This team is comprised of Michelin employees who were previously from the industry, whether chefs or sommeliers, and who go through two years of training beforehand. It is never a single person decision to award a star; rather, it's a shared decision. 

In Malaysia, for the same dish, you can have 40 different recipes, maybe even more. That is the beauty of things. We aim to tell consumers where is a good place to eat and what to eat there, rather than trying to establish a standard. What we recommend may be traditional, traditional with a modern twist, or totally futurist.

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