Top restaurants reach for the stars
Eateries and chefs chase coveted Michelin awards
An open kitchen, where chefs demonstrate their skills making dishes such as hand-pulled noodles and dumplings, grabs diners' attention immediately as they walk into Country Kitchen in Beijing's Chaoyang district.
Next to the kitchen is an array of roasted ducks, prized for their nutty sweetness.
The eatery's decor and cuisine clearly impressed inspectors from the Michelin Guide Beijing, who have awarded it one star, a step up from the Michelin Plate it was granted last year.
"The honor is not only recognition of our team, but also evidence of the charm of North China's cuisine," said Chai Xin, head chef at Country Kitchen.
The second edition of the Michelin Guide Beijing, published a week ago in the Chinese capital, features a pair of three-star restaurants, a couple of two-star eateries and 26 one-star establishments.
The two three-star businesses are vegetarian restaurant King's Joy, which was not only promoted from two stars but also won the new Green Star award, and Xin Rong Ji, which claimed a record total of 10 stars for its outlets in Beijing and Shanghai.
Gwendal Poullennec, international director at Michelin Guides, said that despite the challenges posed this year by the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing restaurateurs have shown incredible commitment to overcoming the crisis with their passion and talent.
In September and October, the third edition of the Michelin Guide Guangzhou and the fifth edition of the Michelin Guide Shanghai were published, with additional stars awarded, but none withdrawn.
Cao Difei, honorary ambassador for gastronomic society Disciples Escoffier International's China Delegation and a food columnist based in Beijing, said it is encouraging for the catering industry that all Michelin-starred restaurants on the Chinese mainland retained their ratings this year, except for Da Dong in Gongti East Road, which closed as the building it was located in had to be demolished.
Published on the mainland for five years, the Michelin guides aim to deepen understanding of the diversity of Chinese cuisine. Even though they have been challenged for their judgment, restaurateurs and chefs value the stars awarded, which bring both honor and pressure.
Unlike the mainland, the awarding of Michelin stars has been canceled or postponed in many places worldwide due to the pandemic.
In March, the publication and awards announcement for this year's Michelin Guide Germany, planned for Hamburg, was canceled and the awards were published online.
Last month in the United States, the Michelin Guide California decided not to award stars to any restaurants in the state this year.
During the pandemic, the number of Michelin-starred restaurants open for business in 39 destinations worldwide has been monitored each week. In April, the opening rate sank to 13 percent, the lowest level to date.
Last week, 36 percent of the restaurants were open. In Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, the rate was 100 percent, while in Shanghai and Beijing, it stood at 98 percent and 96 percent respectively
Kamran Vossoughi, president and CEO of Michelin China, said that by keeping pace with customers' diversified needs, the guides are committed to the Chinese market.
In the first Michelin Guide Shanghai, which was published in 2016, a total of 35 stars were awarded to 26 restaurants. Since then, the number of stars has continued to rise, and now stands at 55, shared by 43 restaurants.
In a video message for the launch of the latest Shanghai guide on Oct 21, Poullennec said that during the past five years, Michelin inspectors have been constantly impressed by the extremely high standard and growing potential of the local culinary scene.
"Chefs have demonstrated both resilience and solidarity in recent months during the COVID-19 crisis, and their commitment impressed us at all levels," he said.
In Beijing, the pandemic may have cost European contemporary restaurant Fresco the Michelin Plate it won last year, as the business had to close for nine months for renovation work, missing the inspectors' visit.
Ye Jingsheng, Fresco's founder, said that after winning the Michelin Plate, he decided to upgrade the restaurant. However, the pandemic meant the work took much longer than expected－the eatery closed in January but could not reopen until Oct 6.
"We received an email in June from Michelin about collecting our information, but we didn't know when the inspectors would arrive. We continue to give priority to the quality of our food and service, even though we missed the inspectors this year," Ye said.
"It's more important to upgrade the experience for diners than to win a Michelin Plate or even a star. It was worth the long wait to redecorate our restaurant and update the menu."