Michelin Guide Launches in South Korea

Michael Song, Nov. 7, 2016, 8:33 a.m.

Long-revered gastronomical bible the Michelin Guide gave three stars to two Korean restaurants, Gaon and La Yeon. In its much-anticipated first Seoul edition, the Michelin Guide selected 24 restaurants in Seoul, chosen after months of anonymous visits by official inspectors from across three continents. The stars are awarded based on five criteria: quality of ingredients, mastery of cooking flavors, personality of the cuisine, value for money and consistency. Eleven of the handpicked restaurants serve traditional and contemporary Korean cuisine. 

Among the winners are 19 one-star restaurants, lauded for “very good” qualities in their respective categories. Three were given two stars, typically bestowed upon restaurants with “excellent cooking worth a detour.”

The Michelin Guide gave modern Korean restaurants Gaon in Sinsa-dong and La Yeon of The Shilla Seoul Hotel the coveted three stars, recognizing them for their “exceptional cuisine worth a special journey.” Among 2,700 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, only 111 have received the guide’s highest ranking status thus far. 

“Throughout my career, I’ve researched Korean food and experienced various responses to Korean cuisine,” said Kim Byeong-jin, the executive chef of Gaon, at the Michelin Guide Seoul launch event at The Shilla Seoul on Monday. “I hope to continue seeing excellent and innovative chefs and restaurants emerge in Korea.” 

Gaon’s sister restaurant Bicena -- both establishments are headed by Lucia Cho, president of Gaon Society -- was awarded one star. 

The first-ever Seoul guide also includes 36 Bib Gourmand restaurants -- recognized for providing high quality food for 35,000 won ($31) or less -- and 34 recommended hotels, ranked by comfort. 

Inspectors have already begun making their rounds for the upcoming 2018 edition, according to Michael Ellis, the international director of the Michelin Guide. 

“The Michelin Guide highlights each country’s culinary scene, evolving trends and emerging chefs,” said Ellis. “Seoul has emerged as one of the world’s most exciting fine dining destinations, and the quality and the diversity of the cuisine here have delighted the inspectors.”

Founded in 1900 by two brothers behind the French tire manufacturer Michelin, the guide was born out of the co-founders’ mission to fuel the automobile industry by publishing free 400-page guidebooks detailing essential travel information, ranging from where to stay in France to how to change a tire. It now covers 28 cities and countries, with the new inclusion of Seoul.  

Although the guide is just commemorating its inaugural year in Seoul, it has awarded Korean chefs in other countries, including Lee Young-hoon of Le Passe Temps in France, Yoon Mi-wol of Yunke in Tokyo, Yim Jung-sik of Jungsik in New York and Corey Lee of Benu in San Francisco. Following its two-starred New York counterpart, Yim’s Jungsik in Seoul received one star at Monday’s event. 

The 2017 Michelin Guide Seoul costs 20,000 won and is available at major local bookstores starting Tuesday. For more information, visit guide.michelin.co.kr. 

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