Expert predicts potential restaurants that will make the cut for Michelin Guide KL and Penang 2023

The Guide, which will be released in December, will help to elevate Malaysian restaurants to the world stage.

Michelin experiences director of communications Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin and managing director of Michelin Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Prichapakorn Dangrojana (Photo: Michelin Guide)

For many months now, the rumour mill has been buzzing with news that the celebrated Michelin Guide will make its Malaysian debut at long last. “The Michelin rumour has been on the grapevine for the past five years already ... at least to my knowledge,” says Darren Teoh of Dewakan. On Oct 20, confirmation finally came through as Gwendal Poullennec, the guide’s international director, announced in a press conference held at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (Mitec) that “we are ecstatic to welcome Kuala Lumpur and Penang to the Michelin Guide family”.

Set for a December 2022 release, the inaugural edition of the Michelin Guide Kuala Lumpur and Penang 2023 will initially focus on the two cities as both present very distinct yet vibrant culinary complexity while mirroring the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural makeup that is uniquely Malaysian. The news was welcome, of course, particularly for KL’s brigade of elite chefs. “It is, after all, the ultimate goal,” says Darren Chin, the lauded chef behind top dining establishments like Restaurant DC, Bref and Gai by Darren Chin. “Even when I mentioned this to people while on a working trip to France recently, you could see their faces light up at the news. Malaysia is now in the global culinary spotlight!”


Darren Teoh of Dewakan (Photo: Dewakan)

As is Michelin’s modus operandi, independent inspectors working incognito would have already made their rounds, grading restaurants based on stringent international selection criteria that include but are not limited to: quality of ingredients; mastery of cooking; harmony of flavours; the personality of the chef through the cuisine; and consistency both over time and across the entire menu. Beyond the coveted stars, the inaugural Michelin Guide Kuala Lumpur and Penang 2023 will include its hugely popular Bib Gourmand category, which recognises value-for-money establishments.

But beyond the glamour, fame and recognition, perhaps one of the most important elements the guide, for want of a better phrase, brings to the table is that it will make the already-tireless exponents of our country’s diverse and multi-faceted F&B industry work even harder and push their craft to higher heights. “Yes, attaining stars is well and good but the real challenge lies in keeping them,” says Chin. “The presence of a Malaysian guide will serve as one of the greatest motivators for all culinary teams. This, in turn, will elevate the entire industry — from attracting the best talents to providing international exposure while putting Malaysia on a global pedestal alongside other key cities as a world-class culinary destination.”


Darren Chin, the lauded chef behind top dining establishments like Restaurant DC, Bref and Gai by Darren Chin (Photo: Restaurant DC)

The excitement has spread to neighbouring countries. David Yip, a respected figure in Singapore’s culinary scene, remarks: “I am already thinking about which restaurants might make the cut and, so far, names that come to mind are Entier French Dining, Nadodi and Dewakan. But seriously, the upcoming launch of the Michelin Guide in Malaysia is an opportunity for deserving restaurants to gain accolades and enhance their stature on the world stage. The benefit to the industry lies in the encouragement it gives potential chefs to join the culinary profession while serving as a psychological boost to the young to keep improving their skills in order to compete with chefs from all over the world. The guide will definitely stimulate tourism which, in the process, will increase revenue for restaurants.”

“Look at the way [the food scene in] Singapore and Thailand (the first two Southeast Asian countries to have their own editions of the guide — in 2016 and 2017 respectively) have blossomed these past years,” Teoh adds. “It is because both the government and private industries have more or less strived for a common purpose.

“The guide’s imminent arrival makes me excited to see how it will transform our restaurant landscape in a couple of years. I hope it will also serve as a catalyst for the government of the day to see the potential of cuisine and restaurants, and how [they] can serve as a significant part of the greater tourism offerings in the country, besides being a stepping stone towards a more sophisticated stratagem in our approach to making Malaysia a true global destination.


South Indian and Sri Lankan fine-dining restaurant Nadodi may be featured in the Guide (Photo: Nadodi)

“I also hope concerted efforts towards the preservation of our culinary heritage — from the facets of tradition and culture, and from the country’s ingredients through conservation and scientific and anthropological study — become a greater priority. And finally, I hope it will bring value to the work being done in the industry right now; that we will attract and retain the talent we have lost to other countries; that young professionals return because they see there is ample space for them to succeed and their work will be appreciated.”

Sadly, there has been backlash over the news already, with local naysayers lamenting how Malaysia’s fine dining scene is not yet up to par or how the star rating would unnecessarily send restaurant prices skyrocketing. “Yes, some have commented that we aren’t ready yet,” says Teoh, “as compared to Thailand or Singapore, which have either bigger populations or proportions of fine dining establishments. But detractors will always be detractors. There is always something to say — that we will never be good enough. How did they come to this expert opinion if it has never been done before? And what have they done to prepare our industry for this? I would spend less time comparing and, instead, focus on the work at hand.”

This article first appeared on Oct 31, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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