How Vietnamese restaurants maintain Michelin stars after a year

Four Vietnamese restaurants that first earned a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide 2023 – Gia, Hibana By Koki, Tam Vi, and Anan Saigon – successfully retained their stars this year.

Speaking to VnExpressSam Tran, head chef of Gia restaurant, revealed that she was anxious before the results were announced and felt an overwhelming sense of joy when their year-long efforts were acknowledged. Although, she emphasized that the team’s efforts over the past year were not aimed at pleasing Michelin or retaining the star.

“We have our own standards, and Michelin recognizes efforts if they are worthy,” said Sam. The chef believes that maintaining their identity and following their chosen path is how they achieved and kept their Michelin star after one year.

She explained that Michelin’s criteria for selecting starred restaurants or other recommended lists are clear, but “no one knows how they are evaluated.”

However, she trusts that the inspectors do not favor restaurants that seek to please them. To earn or retain a star, a restaurant needs to have a unique quality and character.

Inside Gia Restaurant, a dining area showcases a wall adorned with flower illustrations. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Peter Cuong Franklin, head chef of Anan Saigon, also stated that over the past seven years since its opening, he has aimed to innovate Vietnamese culinary styles to suit the global context. The Michelin star impacted the restaurant, with customer numbers increasing by about 20% after the first star was awarded. This allowed them to upgrade service quality and increase staff numbers in all departments.

He also affirmed that the restaurant “cooks for customers, not to please Michelin.” Creativity and hard work in every dish ensure that customers remember and return multiple times.

Meanwhile, Yamaguichi Hiroshi, head chef of Hibana by Koki, believes that focusing on ingredients and maintaining consistency in dish quality, while keeping passion alive, are essential. For Hibana by Koki, the most critical aspect is the ingredients, ensuring freshness and reflecting the chef’s personality.

The chef prepares food at Hibana by Koki restaurant. Photo: Giang Huy

A chef preparing a dish at Hibana by Koki. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Over the past year, chef Sam has changed the sourcing of ingredients, reducing the use of imported ingredients and utilising more local produce.

She and Gia aim to promote Vietnamese cuisine and enhance local supply chains. The restaurant’s latest menu, “Golden Forest, Silver Sea”, showcases local specialties and high-quality ingredients.

The selection process for ingredients has also become more stringent, such as for pheasant dishes. The head chef noted that pheasants’ flavor varies by season and region. She compared the selection process to that of Wagyu beef, which is specially cared for to deliver the best quality meat. The restaurant plans to host small parties with suppliers to help them understand Gia’s work and refine the ingredient selection process.

“We appreciate the recognition from Michelin,” said Sam.

Ha Quach (Vincent), a lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at the School of Business, RMIT University, remarked that maintaining a Michelin star was “very important.”

Losing a star can impact business operations. She cited an example where chef Kevin Thornton’s restaurant at the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, lost its Michelin star in 2015, resulting in a 76% drop in profits and leading to its closure in late October 2016.

She believes there are four key points for restaurants to maintain their star performance in the coming years.

Firstly, restaurants need to carefully evaluate their business model and target market. They should not just rely on the Michelin star to attract customers.

Secondly, the management team and staff must be well-prepared. They need to be trained to maintain the Michelin star.

Thirdly, investing in service and decor is essential to enhance the dining experience. This investment is crucial for ensuring customer satisfaction.

Finally, a thorough financial plan is needed for the type and amount of investment they will undertake. The chef’s passion and culinary artistry also need to be nurtured as they contribute to the restaurant’s success.

The head chef of Hibana by Koki observed that Michelin has brought significant positive value to the culinary market in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang over the past year. Restaurant standards have become more rigorous, promising to discover more talented young chefs in the future.

Alongside the positive aspects, Pham Huong Trang, a lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at RMIT University Vietnam, also mentioned the potential “decline of Michelin” in the future.

The market may become saturated as the number of honored restaurants increases, if the quality of evaluations is inconsistent, or fails to meet customer expectations. Competition from other evaluation systems is also a challenge. Trang suggested that Michelin could seek more evaluations from local culinary experts and international experts familiar with Vietnamese cuisine.

Additionally, if the evaluation and star-assigning process lacks transparency, the public and customers may lose trust, making them less attentive to Michelin’s presence. Some chefs and restaurants might feel unfairly treated if they do not receive a Michelin star, leading to disputes and customer dissatisfaction.

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