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Tokyo to top Michelin guide again

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-11

The famous French Michelin guide made waves last year when it awarded Tokyo restaurants a total of 191 stars, allowing them to beat their Paris counterparts 2 to 1. This year, the gap is set to widen further.

Tokyo, which already boasts a record number of Michelin stars, can expect even more of the coveted awards when the second edition of the renowned culinary guide for the city is published this month.

"It's clear. This year again, Tokyo is going be the capital with the most stars," Michelin director Jean-Luc Naret told AFP ahead of the guide's launch on November 21.

The number of Tokyo restaurants awarded stars will exceed the 150 listed in the first edition, which had a total of 191 stars -- more than double the number given to restaurants in Paris.

"Tokyo is the capital where there are the most restaurants, more than 160,000, and also excellent cuisine," Naret said. "We will therefore see new one-star, two-star and three-star restaurants."

At the same time some restaurants that were recognised last year would lose their stars because they changed owners and chefs or closed down, he said.

The first Tokyo edition last year provoked criticism and sarcasm among Japanese restaurant owners and food critics, who mocked the ability of French inspectors to judge Japanese cuisine.

"But we showed that our selection was remarkable," said Naret. "No one today can say that our work was not serious or lacking depth."

"Last year, the Michelin team consisted of Japanese and European inspectors. Today we have six Japanese inspectors and only one European," he added.

Rumours, however, have swept through Japan's culinary world that some chefs refused to be cited in the Michelin guide.

"If some restaurants are not listed, that's not their choice but ours," retorted Naret.

"There are indeed great eateries that are not in the guide simply because you cannot have a table unless you're a familiar face. But our guide is written for readers, not to give medals to chefs," he added.

Inspectors currently visit restaurants in 22 countries across three continents to award Michelin ratings, which have become the benchmark for excellence in international dining.

Michelin use the same criteria -- product quality, preparation and flavours, cuisine personality, value for money and consistency -- when awarding stars to restaurants across the world, according to its website.

The first edition of the Tokyo guide sold 300,000 copies between its launch on November 19 and Christmas Day 2007. Half were sold in a matter of hours on the first day.

"We decided to limit sales to 300,000 copies and we had no unsold stocks. That is unprecedented in the history of our guide," explained Naret.

"At the beginning, distributors were pretty reserved, talking about only 35,000, 45,000, 50,000 copies. I personally thought we were going to sell just above what we sold in New York the first year, which was 120,000."

For the 2009 edition, Naret expects a first circulation of 300,000 copies, but Michelin will be ready to print more if there is demand.

"If I listened to the pre-orders of bookstores, we should print about 800,000 guides. But we must be reasonable since we would not like to find ourselves with unsold stocks," said Naret.

The new guide will be presented in the same fashion as the first edition, with two pages dedicated to each honoured restaurant, along with several photos and a map of the location. But readers will see some differences.

"We worked on a new layout that is more Japanese, more zen, in order to make it easier to read," said Naret. The guide will indicate whether the restaurant has a private room, tatami flooring and whether visitors need to remove their shoes at the entrance.

"I hope that this will become an annual event like Beaujolais Nouveau," said Naret. "Therefore, this year, the guide will arrive in wooden boxes to show that it's a vintage year."

Date created : 2008-11-11