Hiroshi Nakamichi dreamed of becoming a great one-star restaurateur when he went to Lyon, France, with a Michelin guide in his hands, to work at Michelin-starred restaurants. More than 30 years later, his dream came more than true when his “bible” gave three stars to his Sapporo-based French restaurant Molière.
“I never thought three stars was possible,” says owner-chef Nakamichi, 60.
The “Michelin Guide Hokkaido 2012,” which hit store shelves today, brought tears and cheers to 69 restaurants and hotels awarded with the treasured Michelin stars. This is the first time Michelin has put Hokkaido on its reputable gastronomic map; the guide introduces 699 restaurants and hotels in the region.
The highest honor of three Michelin stars went to Japanese restaurants Sushi Tanabe and Nukumi, as well as to Nakamichi’s Molière, all in the city of Sapporo. Michel Bras Toya Japon, which offers French cuisine in the town of Toyako, is also listed among the three-starred restaurants, all of which Michelin designates as “worth a special journey.”
Nakamichi says Michelin’s Hokkaido guide gave credit to restaurants that showcase Hokkaido’s rich and diverse harvest.
“I thought Michelin made a bold decision by awarding stars to my restaurant, which serves very authentic French cuisine, leaving not so much room for creativity — even though creativity is something Michelin valued in its Tokyo guide,” says Nakamichi.
Nakamichi’s observation might be true.
After Michelin’s eight famously anonymous food connoisseurs journeyed around Japan’s largest chunk of land to wine and dine at 1,500 restaurants and hotels, they decided that Hokkaido offers too wide a variety of culinary experiences to apply their usual tack. In order to the embrace the gastronomic diversity, Michelin’s inspectors took unusual steps.
For the first time in a Japanese Michelin restaurants and hotels guide, they added a Bib Gourmands selection, introducing 121 nonstar restaurants that offer reasonable gourmet experiences for under ¥3,500. They also listed 288 restaurants featuring local cuisine such as the mutton barbecue jingisukan, a dish named after Genghis Khan, whose Mongolian soldiers were said to have grilled mutton on their own helmets.
The biggest surprise came when Michelin recognized 19 ramen eateries, its first inclusion of the noodle dish in Michelin’s five-year history in Japan.
“I did not even really know what the Michelin Guide was about,” says Machimi Terui, 43, the owner-chef of ramen noodle shop Gentle-men in the town of Kyowa. The restaurant’s name is a play on words, since men is Japanese for “noodle.”
Hokkaido Prefecture has high hopes that the Michelin guide will bolster its already-robust tourism industry, especially in attracting visitors from outside of Japan. But how much the guide will contribute has yet to be tested, as the Hokkaido edition, unlike the guides for the Kanto and Kansai areas, is published in Japanese only. The prefecture says it will put an English translation on its official tourism website by summer.
The “Michelin Guide Hokkaido 2012″ (in Japanese) is out now.