‘Our inspectors are all over Dubai,' says 'Michelin Guide' international director

Gwendal Poullennec explains why (finally) having Michelin-starred restaurants in the UAE works in favour of all food lovers

Anonymous Michelin Guide inspectors have been visiting and rating Dubai restaurants over the past few years. Photo: Unsplash
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Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of Michelin Guide, began his address at the Museum of the Future on Tuesday with the words “dear food lovers”. Poullennec was in Dubai this week to announce that the emirate is finally getting its own digital-only Michelin Guide in June, a project that has been five years in the wings.

What this means is that Michelin inspectors have been visiting — anonymously, as is their wont — restaurants across Dubai, once, twice again, to gauge whether a venue can lay claim to one, two or three coveted Michelin stars.

“Anonymity is key for our famous inspectors,” notes Poullennec. “When they go for a meal, they do it for the gourmet, for the customer. So it is crucial they get treated like any regular guest without bias.

“The same inspector does not visit a place twice, and different inspectors visit a place at different times to monitor consistency. Stars are then allocated based on a collective decision. And this is why, a restaurant that has even just one star, it means a lot to the industry.”

While the job sounds like a food lover's dream, it’s evidently an excruciatingly painstaking process.

“The inspectors are required to travel the world and familiarise themselves with all cuisine types. They need a minimum of three years in the field and to eat 300 meals a year. Given how quickly the food scene evolves, it is a never-ending process.”

Poullennec points out that even certain low-budget food stalls in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong have Michelin stars, which signifies that quality is the only parameter than matters to the guide. Within this remit, the inspectors look for the standard of the ingredients; the mastery of cooking; the harmony of flavours; the personality of the chef reflected through the cuisine; and consistency over time and across the menu.

What this means from a diner’s point of view is the restaurants they visit on the back off the Michelin Guide are “part of the very best”.

We speak more to Poullennec about quality, consistency and legacy.

Does Michelin rate locally sourced ingredients higher than imported ones?

The quality and freshness of the product is key. It’s more important for a chef to pick up the right product at the right time, and with care. It is a fact that Dubai is not [yet] a core agricultural hub, but it has an incredible supply chain. So people just need to make the right seasonal selection to impress our inspectors. And hopefully the arrival of the Michelin Guide will encourage local talent and local supply.

How do the inspectors arrive at a selection of dishes?

They behave exactly like regular guests, and will pick what makes sense according to the restaurant and its cuisine, so as to fairly assess the quality. But then they will come again and again, so that at the end of the day, we have a comprehensive overview of the menu.

This is why only 15,000 restaurants across 35 cities have ­Michelin stars to date. [To put this in perspective, Dubai, which is the 36th Michelin destination, itself has close to 11,000 restaurants.]

The important thing also to remember is that the Michelin Guide coming to Dubai is part of a long journey. This is just the beginning, so restaurants will be added as we go along.

As with the Dubai guide, will all future Michelin Guides be digital-only?

The main focus of the Michelin Guide going forward is definitely digital. We are still publishing some of the iconic guide books, for example in France. But from a [foodie or gastro-tourist’s] perspective, it is important that all data and all ratings are widely available, regardless of language and location. With digital, we can always be up to date and offer access to online bookings. So it’s much more convenient to the customer.

The full selection for the Michelin Guide Dubai will be available at guide.michelin.com in June

Updated: March 31, 2022, 11:49 AM