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6 Things We Learned From the Michelin Guide Singapore 2021 Star Revelation

The virtual event for these Covid times didn’t lack the excitement and pizzazz of an in-person gala. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed today.

6 Things We Learned From the Michelin Guide Singapore 2021 Star Revelation

After being cancelled last year due to the successive pandemic-related restaurant closures, the Michelin Guide Singapore made its eagerly awaited return, and the fifth edition of the dining awards saw 49 restaurants earning the coveted stars.

Presented by International Director of Michelin Guides Gwendal Poullenec, Vice President of Michelin Asia Pacific Chan Hock Sen, and Nikki Muller, the virtual event had beaming chefs and their teams dialling into the ceremony through Zoom on 1 September, a set-up we’ve grown accustomed to by now.

According to Poullenec, compared to last year the Singapore food scene has become more diverse than ever. “Foodies in Singapore have plenty of options,” he says from Paris. “Not only did the local food industry weather the storms, but it also became more creative in their methods [of reaching customers] and the experience they created. … Michelin inspectors in the field reported [witnessing] positive mindsets; the industry was hard hit, but people remained enthusiastic, willing to move forward and entrepreneurial.”

Gwendal Poullenec, International Director MIchelin Guides
Gwendal Poullenec, International Director Michelin Guides

Though local Covid restrictions and regulations meant inspectors had to adapt how they carried out their work, how tastings were conducted remained the same as in previous years, Poullenec explains: They worked with even more commitment to ensure the Michelin Guides’ methodology and judging criteria — quality of product, mastery of cooking technique, harmony of flavours, personality of the chef, and consistency over time — were respected.

On the relevance of Michelin Guides at a time when F&B establishments the world over are buckling under the strain caused by the pandemic, Poullenec says it’s about recognising the diversity of the local food scene, and encouraging, motivating and igniting a push towards a positive dynamic, to support chefs and their teams and encourage people to return to restaurants.

“At Michelin, we believe that if you want to enjoy food, you have to go to the restaurant, and that’s what we’re celebrating today,” he says. “We hope that soon we’ll be able to fill restaurants with laughter, joy and love.”

Here are the six key points from today’s award presentation you need to know.

(from left) Cloudstreet Head Chef Mark Tai, Chef-Owner and Executive Chef Rishi Naleendra, and Sous Chef Adley Axmeer Shah
(from left) Cloudstreet Head Chef Mark Tai, Chef-Owner and Executive Chef Rishi Naleendra, and Sous Chef Adley Axmeer Shah

01 | Mark Tai from Cloudstreet wins the first Michelin Guide Singapore Young Chef Award

According to Poullenec, the Young Chef Award recognises a chef who’s an ambassador of their generation, who demonstrates real leadership and the potential to impact the local food scene and could shape the industry. “Putting a spotlight on a young chef is also to celebrate the dynamic creativity of the new generation of chefs that will make the future of the Singapore culinary landscape,” he adds. And Cloudstreet‘s Head Chef Mark Tai snagged this inaugural title. The Culinary School of America alum has been working alongside Rishi Naleendra for about six years and credits the latter with “[pushing] us to a higher level.”

02 | Zen is promoted to the three-star club

Not yet three years old, the European contemporary restaurant has ri-Zen to the Michelin Guide stratosphere, and its Executive Head Chef Tristin Farmer couldn’t quite contain his amazement. “It’s crazy. I’ll try not to swear right now. It’s a dream come true,” he says during the ceremony.

“We’re humbled to get this recognition, especially with what we’ve been through as an industry through the pandemic,” Farmer adds during the post-event press conference. “The biggest success story for us is that 75 percent of the team we had when we won two Michelin stars (in 2019) are still here. We’ve survived shutdowns and takeaways and [churning out hundreds of waffle ice cream sandwiches for takeout], and we’re still open as a business. … Covid hasn’t stopped us doing our best, but it’s made it hard. But creativity in a restaurant always go on.”

Jaan by Kirk Westaway Executive Chef Kirk Westaway
Executive Chef Kirk Westaway

03 | Jaan by Kirk Westaway is now a newly minted two-star establishment

British contemporary restaurant Jaan by Kirk Westaway debuted in the inaugural edition of the Michelin Guide Singapore with one star, and now it’s levelled up. “To achieve the second star is the cherry on the cake,” Executive Chef Kirk Westaway says. “[Covid] has been a challenging time, but it’s given us an opportunity to refresh our minds and look at options we hadn’t before, like how to streamline the style of food and how to make it cleaner, and I’m proud of what we do.”

04 | Twelve restaurants make their debut in the one-star category

They are 28Wilkie, Art, Basque Kitchen by Aitor, Cloudstreet, Cure, Esora, Lerouy, Oshino, Shang Palace, Sommer, Thevar, and Whitegrass.

“It hasn’t been an overnight success, and I have to acknowledge everyone on the team and the whole brigade of Cure Concepts,” says Cure Chef-Owner Andrew Walsh, who has gone on to launch Butcher Boy and Catfish, and the pop-up Bao Boy. “We’ll celebrate, and tomorrow we’ll have a cold shower and get back to service.”

The disruption caused by Covid-related restrictions made Sommer‘s win all the more unexpected for its executive chef, Lewis Barker. “I still don’t believe it — we opened in January and we’ve been through two lockdowns, and to get this recognition so quickly it was unimaginable for me,” he says. “Opening during what we thought was a controlled period, we had a good run for four to five months, but we got shut down and takeaways weren’t great, but we continue doing our best.”

Whitegrass Executive Chef Takuya Yamashita adds: “When I came to Singapore two years ago, I never thought about winning this award, but with the support of my team and friends at Whitegrass and suppliers, it was a great journey that led us to win this. … [During the circuit breaker] we closed for months and did takeaways, but many customers still supported us and that’s how we survived.”

05 | Just one hawker makes the list

Considering how much Singaporeans love their hawker food, its absence this year was hard to miss. Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle was on its own this year; no other hawker centre or street food stall earned or retained stars.

Asked whether this means Michelin Guides is shifting its focus to dine-in establishments, International Director of Michelin Guides Gwendal Poullenec says that more than 120 hawker centre and street food stalls are still recognised within the Bib Gourmand and Michelin Plates categories, “which reflects the inspectors’ respect for them.”

06 | Twenty-six restaurants maintain their standing, despite the tough times

Three Michelin stars
Les Amis, whose executive chef Sebastian Lepinoy has previously likened earning three stars to becoming a Grand Master Jedi — “It’s still true, it’s so important in the life of a chef to [attain a Michelin star],” he adds;
Odette, whose chef-owner Julien Royer says his grandmother “would be proud and happy” with what her namesake restaurant has achieved

Two Michelin stars
Saint Pierre, Shisen Hanten, Shoukouwa, Waku Ghin

One Michelin star
Alma, Beni, Braci, Buona Terra, Burnt Ends, Candlenut, Chef Kang’s, Corner House, Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Garibaldi, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, Iggy’s, Imperial Treasure Fine Teochew Cuisine (Orchard), Jag, Labyrinth, Lei Garden, Ma Cuisine, Meta, Nouri, Putien (Kitchener Road), Rhubarb, Shinji (Bras Basah Road), Shinji (Tanglin Road), Summer Palace, Summer Pavilion, Sushi Ichi, Sushi Kimura, Table65, Terra

Relive the ceremony here: