The Michelin guide, widely considered the authority of fine dining around the world, is launching in Canada for the first time.
The French company behind the prestigious guidebooks is set to announce on Tuesday that it will publish a guide for Toronto, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. The Globe is not identifying the sources because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
This is the first venture into Canada for Michelin. The company publishes guidebooks in over 30 countries around the world and ranks restaurants with a three-star system, which has a long history shrouded in secrecy.
Federal Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault and Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as celebrity chefs Daniel Boulud and Toronto-raised Alvin Leung, both owners of Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, are expected at Tuesday’s announcement, the sources say. A spokesperson for Michelin declined to comment Friday.
The news offers a glimpse of hope for fine dining, a segment of Toronto’s restaurant industry that has been especially beleaguered over the past several years, even as the Michelin brand itself faces questions about its relevance in a rapidly changing restaurant landscape.
Since 2020, Toronto restaurants – and restaurants across the country – have faced a mounting series of challenges: COVID-19 lockdowns, government-mandated shutdowns, supply chain disruptions and labour shortages. After the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, consumer spending in restaurants dropped by more than 20 per cent, according to data collected by NPD Group. By the first quarter of 2021, spending had dropped an additional 12 per cent.
The recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario has helped. According to NPD Group, in-person and online restaurant visits have increased 18 per cent in the first quarter of 2022 over the previous year. Still, “full-service” restaurants – which includes fine dining – have seen a shaky recovery.
The announcement of the Michelin guides, with its raison d’être of attracting tourism, will likely spark renewed hope for such businesses. A 2018 study in the Stanford Economics Review found that, historically, a one-star Michelin rating at restaurants around the world has translated into a 15-per-cent price premium for a restaurant. A three-star review, meanwhile, meant an 80 per-cent premium.
The Michelin travel guides were first created in 1899 by the French tire company in an attempt to spark interest in travel – and create more demand for cars. In the time since, it’s evolved into what is arguably the world’s most-influential arbiter of taste. Many of the world’s most lauded chefs consider a one-star rating a high honour. Around the world, just 136 restaurants hold an elusive three-star rating.
Still, Michelin has been subject to a range of criticism in recent years. Over the past decade, the guide, which initially began in Europe, has expanded to countries around the world – most recently into Asia and South America. But several of those moves have since been revealed to have been funded by local tourism boards, raising questions about the integrity of those decisions.
Michelin’s expansion into South Korea in 2016, for example, came after Korean tourism organizations paid the French company roughly US$1.8-million, according to local reports at the time.
Others too have criticized the guide, with its focus on white tablecloths and wine lists, as elitist and overly focused on French-centric ideas – especially when the culture around dining is striving to become more diverse and democratic.
“This is very big news for Canada. But the first thing that came to my mind was: ‘Why now?’ ” said Toronto-based chef and author Suzanne Barr.
She said she hopes to see shifts in the Michelin mandate. “I’d be very curious if there’s going to be any updates, and conversations around what Michelin is going to be about: What’s their next strategy for the next five, ten years?”
Still, she said she hopes that a bigger spotlight on Canada’s restaurant industry will push governments to do more to support restaurant owners and workers – especially around paid sick leaves, government subsidies for businesses, and mental health of workers.
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