You can count the number of Michelin starred restaurants I’ve eaten in with one hand. For a man who enjoys eating as much as I do many people look surprised when I say I haven’t been to that many but to be honest I’m just not that bothered with it all. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the incredible talents of the likes of Ducasse, Arzak et al but I, like many others find the whole experience a bit false and needy. And when I say needy I mean more on the consumer’s behalf than the chefs.

The other week I was very kindly invited to a private party in the upstairs of Singapore’s Burnt ends restaurant. It was a sort of soft launch of their new concept and me and my friends were happy to play the guinea pigs. For those who haven’t yet been, Burnt ends is a hipster come barbeque come fusion restaurant in the place to be seen neighbourhood of Keong Saik road, just on the fringe of Singapore’s Chinatown.  The food is consistently good (just ranked 14th on Asia’s top 50) service top notch and all in an atmosphere resembling a late night drinking session in a hidden bar. The reason why I’m telling you this is because one of our main courses was a full suckling pig stuffed with crab meat. It was good, very good but my favourite thing about it was when head chef Dave Pynt came up to see how we were doing and was absolutely loving the fact that he had pulled this culinary feat  off. A pig and a fair few crabs in perfect harmony.  Dave and the team inject so much enthusiasm into the place, the whole team takes ownership of every dish, it’s just a pleasure to see and in such a fun and friendly atmosphere. This really is a group of people doing what they love, how they love it and I’m pretty sure that if you didn’t love it they wouldn’t give a flying.

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And this gets me back to the Michelin stars. If later this year Burnt ends gets a Michelin star I don’t know whether I’d be happy or sad for Dave and the team. It would without a doubt mean that getting a seat (no reservations after first sitting anyway) would be even harder. The clientele would change. There is no escaping the fact that the world is full of list tickers and a Michelin star list is just as good a list to tick away at as any (providing you have the cash). Upon getting a star, any restaurant will be full of these tickers and do these people really go for the show or do they go to take Instagram pictures and leave confused.  The critic A. A Gill wrote

“Off the rec­ord, one starred chef told me that he dreaded its annual publication not because he might lose his stat­us but because for the next month the booking would be full of customers with faces like smacked bottoms who complained about everything. He says the temperature in the dining room drops until you can almost see your own breath.”

And then there’s that other problem that chefs and restaurant owners (particularly in Singapore face). If you win a michelin star you are obviously on top of your game. If you are on top of your game you are obviously making money. If you are making money in this town, then you better hope your landlord doesn’t find out. I will be interested to see how many of Singapore’s first michelin starred restaurants either move or price themselves out of the market because of our, oh so understanding landlords. On a smaller scale there used to be a very good bar on Joo Chiat road in Singapore’s east. Immigrants was the work of a great bunch of people most notably chef Damian D’silva whose modern take on old school peranakan flavours was a real hit with the locals and a fair few celebrity chefs from further a field, if rumours are to be believed. But popularity led to a rent increase and then another one, in a time when all other rents were decreasing. What choice do these guys have when faced with such unreasonable demands. Immigrants closed its doors last year. The community lost a great bar.

The michelin guide have said that hawkers will also appear in this year guidebook. Again this is a double edged sword. In 2010 Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kongs Mongkok district won a michelin star. It was a tiny 20 seater hole in the wall dim sum place where you could enjoy char siu bau for 80 cents. Now they have branches all over Asia including one in Sydney, it’s a real success story and a prime example of what a star can do for a business. But looking at it from another angle, overnight it became a gastronomic sensation. Queues of food lovers and no doubt list tickers from around the world converged on the tiny eatery. If you were a regular customer last week you hadn’t got a chance now. So what happens if say Marine Parade Laksa gets a star. The uncle and auntie who have eaten there every week for years will have to look elsewhere.

We take great pride in running our Singabites tours to some of our islands best hawker stalls. It’s what we have found our guests have really enjoyed, sitting down with the locals eating what they eat, where they eat it. If one of our stops gets a mention in the guide, I selfishly worry that the experience might be dampened. I worry that our prata man who always has a table saved for us and a big smile every morning will be forced to make us queue behind the 20 other groups who have just found this jewel in Singapore’s eating crown. As much as I’d be delighted for him and his success, I kind of like to think it’s a hidden secret at the moment, one that I and those in the know can just pull up a chair at when we like.

There is no doubt that attracting more visitors to our hawker centres is a good thing. These guys work tirelessly to feed us and normally for very little reward. But I hope the regular crowd gets to continue to enjoy what they’ve always known was the best place to eat at.

For me I am quite happy to continue eating at my normal spots, maybe a special occasion might drag me over to check out one of our new stars but I’ll give it a few months until the list tickers have moved on. I’m glad Singapore’s talent is getting recognised and I hope it pushes some to greater heights. There’s no question competition and thus standards will rise but I hope not at any price.