Michelin Guides’ Gwendal Poullennec on What He Learned Over the Covid-19 Pandemic
Since Gwendall Poullennec took on the role of international director for the Michelin Guides in 2018, he has witnessed first-hand the highs and lows of the global F&B industry. The past two years have been the hardest, no thanks to the Covid-19 virus that keeps mutating and showing no signs of ending the pandemic.
But if you ask Poullenec about the positive thing that came out of our current situation, it is the “extraordinary amount of solidarity, adaptability of the F&B scene” that continues to amaze and humble him and his team. Despite the no-dine-in rule during Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) and the continued safety measures in place, he tells Tatler Dining that the chefs and their teams have been able to reinvent their activities and develop concepts such as takeaways and deliveries to get through this period.
Their skill, creativity and passion were celebrated in the recent Michelin Guide Singapore, which returned after a one-year break to award the restaurants their well-deserved stars. It was a timely comeback at a time when restaurants needed it the most, and this is only the beginning of Poullennec and his team in continuing to champion the F&B industry. Here he shares his thoughts on what's next for the dining scene and how he is continuing to support it.
Why is there an even bigger need to celebrate the local F&B scene now?
Gwendal Poullennec We believe that the community support for local cuisine remains incredibly strong in Singapore, and establishments that have overcome the challenges of the pandemic deserve recognition for their contributions to the culinary scene, not to mention the vital role they’ve played in keeping people fed.
From an international perspective—and since the beginning of the pandemic—the Michelin Guide has continuously adapted to the local situation, ensuring its decisions and activities were the most relevant to the local context. The Guide has also developed many initiatives to pursue its historic mission: to be a link between international foodies and the chefs and restaurants. To do so, its teams imagined both local and global initiatives to keep feeding this link. On social media, for example, we launched the Michelin Guide at Home campaign promoting chefs’ recipes for reproduction at home during the lockdown. The editorial platforms, such as its website, published many articles to promote restaurants’ alternative offers (take-away or delivery, for example). Thanks to our teams of inspectors in the field, we were also able to collect the most up-to-date information as well as bring awareness on the reality of the world industry by releasing, for example, a weekly international index that presents the percentage of starred restaurants operating around the world.
The Michelin Guide Singapore has returned after a one-year hiatus. Has anything changed in the way the inspectors review restaurant?
GP Nothing has changed. All establishments are chosen according to the same five criteria used by Michelin inspectors around the world: quality of the ingredients; mastery of cooking; harmony of the flavours; expression of the chef’s personality in the cuisine; and consistency, both over time and across the entire menu.
The anonymity of the inspectors is an integral part of the methodology of the Michelin Guide, hence we do not disclose information about our inspectors. Singapore is an international city, with a broad range of international cuisine alongside local cuisine. The team of inspectors will therefore be international and made up of inspectors of different nationalities, be they Europeans, Americans and Asians.
Do you think the chefs have gotten even more creative during the pandemic? What were some of their creations that surprised you the most?
GP We have always felt the chef's creativity in cooking by the visual, taste and tactile senses. During this period affected by the pandemic, what we have also seen is that chefs and people in the industry have become more mature and strategic. They have a better understanding of themselves and the industry. Together, they unite in solving difficulties. These include the embrace of technology and delivery platforms as primary ways of bringing the restaurant experience to the homes, while some of them also took the opportunity to test new dishes or go back to their roots to offer comfort family recipes.
We have seen from some cases that they are increasingly more involved and concerned in their societies. For instance, Michelin collaborated with a total of 20 Michelin-listed restaurants in Singapore last year to deliver over 2,000 nourishing meals to The Food Bank Singapore’s member beneficiaries. I believe that these positive beliefs will help us to overcome today’s difficulties, and tomorrow will be better.
As a food lover, how are you supporting the F&B scene?
GP I go to restaurants whenever I can to enjoy amazing meals prepared by talented and passionate professionals. As a team, with the Michelin Guide, we are the first clients back to the restaurants as soon as it’s possible. Our inspectors made everything to adapt themselves to be on the field every time it was possible.
What are some of your most memorable meals so far?
GP As someone who loves food and a good conversation over the dinner table, I am glad to say I have too many memorable meals this year to single out any. I enjoy all cuisine and will continue to expand my gastronomic journey by trying out new food whenever, wherever I can.
What are the latest dining trends that we should look out for? Which ones do you think are here to stay?
GP Singapore’s standing in the gastronomic world remains strong. Attentive service, in-depth knowledge, talented professionals and abundant ingredients are well presented with good attempts toward sustainable issues. We will see more and more restaurants offering dining experiences that combine culinary excellence with outstanding eco-friendly commitments and are a source of inspiration both for keen foodies and the hospitality industry as a whole.
What’s the first restaurant you’ll book once travel resumes?
GP That really depends on where I will be traveling to; only time can tell. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to be able to go back to Singapore to enjoy its culinary gems!
What does the dining scene that has changed drastically over the past year hold for Michelin Guide?
GP This pandemic has been difficult for everyone, everywhere. The food & beverage industry is of course badly affected. In Singapore, dine-in has been banned a few times and strict measures are implemented for the safety of every resident. The changes haven’t been easy. However, it is also proven that people are capable of so much more—staying positive, energetic, flexible, and professional while adapting to the unstable situation.
Our local team will work with the industry in any way during recovery time by being flexible, respectful and realistic. We’ll be here to support, promote, publicise and encourage all restaurants and diners to safely return to restaurants to promote the sector’s recovery.