Michelin exec fears Tokyo’s star power may ruffle France’s feathers

by Tomoko A. Hosaka

The Associated Press

The Epicurean king who oversees the Michelin Guide fears he may be banished from France.

His shocking crime?

Awarding Tokyo more three-star restaurant ratings than Paris, thereby crowning the city the new gastronomic capital of the world.

“Trust me, they’ll wait for me at customs there,” Jean-Luc Naret, director general of the famed guide to exceptional eateries, joked Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. “Because they’ll say, ‘How dare could you have more three-stars in Tokyo than in Paris?’ “

Michelin’s latest Tokyo edition went on sale in Japan on Friday, and Naret has been in town this week promoting what many consider to be the bible of restaurant guides. This time, Michelin’s undercover team of inspectors has bestowed its highest three-star rating to 11 restaurants in Tokyo, one more than in Paris.

Tokyo also beat Paris for the total number of stars received — 261 awarded to 197 establishments.

That’s 34 more than when the venerable guide made its Asian debut in Japan in 2007.

Michelin’s ranking system considers the quality, consistency and value of a restaurant’s food, with three stars designating “exceptional cuisine, and worth the journey,” without taking into account the service or ambience, according to the guide.

The first Tokyo edition sold 300,000 copies — 150,000 of which were snapped up in the first 24 hours. Since then, Michelin has released guides for Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Osaka and Kyoto.

Not everyone in Japan was pleased that Michelin had landed in Tokyo. Critics attacked its culinary selections. Some chefs said they didn’t want to be in the book. Others questioned how a group of foreigners could judge Japanese food.

To mollify naysayers, the company used only Japanese inspectors for the 2010 Tokyo edition, Naret said.

Placating his fellow Frenchman may be another matter.

“Forget everything that you know about Japanese food,” Naret said he would like to tell Parisians. “Just go to the other side of the world, and you will understand what Japanese food is all about.”

And France still wins the country count, with 25 three-star establishments nationwide to Japan’s 18.

Beaujolais whines

Kyodo News

The chief of the Beaujolais-Beaujolais Village winemakers association on Thursday condemned the marketing in Japan of the seasonal French red wine in plastic bottles.

Daniel Bulliat told a news conference at the French Embassy in Tokyo that his association opposes selling the wine in plastic containers because it hurts the product’s image and sense of tradition.

The remarks came just hours after the embargo on sales of 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau was lifted in Japan at midnight Wednesday, amid efforts by Japanese liquor firms and importers to boost sales by lowering prices. Replacing glass bottles with plastic ones cuts transportation and other costs.

Bulliat said winemakers and marketers are not authorized to use the Beaujolais appellation to products unless they live up to the criteria and rules laid down by his association.

The association will draw up new rules “by next spring” banning the appellation from being used for wine sold in plastic.

If the association carries out the threat, such wine could not carry the Beaujolais label in 2010 and thereafter.

Under France’s Appellation d’Origine Controlee (controlled term of origin) system, certification is granted to certain wines and other farm products under the regulation of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, part of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Bulliat’s association is in charge of the AOC system for Beaujolais Nouveau wines.

The association was unable to prevent this year’s wine from being marketed in plastic bottles in Japan with the Beaujolais Nouveau label because it only learned of Japanese importers’ plans this summer, he said.

Bulliat said that keeping Beaujolais Nouveau wines in plastic bottles for a long period of time would undermine their quality.