Having reached Macau for the first time nine years ago, the world-renowned Michelin Guide produced by the French tire company of the same name has awarded three more stars to restaurants in the city this year, joining the 16 already marked with the most coveted sign of food excellence, a Michelin Star. Now Michelin has partnered with one of the world’s biggest wine publications, Robert Parker Wine Advocate, to bring to Macau and Hong Kong world class chefs and wines for a series of unique gourmet dining and food tasting events. Business Daily sat down with Mr. Bernard Delmas, Senior Vice President of the Michelin Group, and Ms. Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Editor-in-Chief of Robert Parker Wine Advocate, to discuss how the city can make its unique gastronomic mixture one of the major strengths in diversifying its tourism offerings. Two days after the announcement of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau 2017, the partnership hosted its prestigious Michelin Gala Dinner at the Studio City Grand Ballroom on November 11, bringing to Macau world renowned chefs such as Alvin Leung, Hideaki Matsuo, Björn Frantzén and Pierre Hermé. In addition, it highlighted some of the talent present in Macau: Chefs Tam Kwok Fung and Guillaume Galliot.
What was the idea behind this partnership?
Bernard Delmas (BD) - the Michelin Guide first came to Asia 10 years ago, to Japan, and we arrived to Hong Kong and Macau quite early, nine years ago. Since 2015, we’ve looked to develop more in Asia, and the original idea was started in Singapore. We were looking for partners and we found Robert Parker, originally a U.S. company, but that became a Singapore-based company. Robert Parker shares the same values we do, since we evaluate restaurants independently through our inspectors, which they also do with wine. The common value was so strong we thought they were the right partner and also had the experience with wine and food tasting events we didn’t. The success of the Michelin Guide gala dinner in Singapore in July was proof the concept of our partnership is working.
What was the appeal of the Macau market?
BD - Since the project was so successful in Singapore, and since the Guide was already so well established in Hong Kong and Macau, we decided to expand the events here. It has been challenging to do so in such a short time.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown (LPB) - It takes a lot of time to organise events of this scale, but we wanted to keep up the momentum.
Did gaming operators or the government approach you to help organise the events?
BD - No, just our own will.
LPB - It always starts with us. Robert Parker has been doing events since 2012, because we wanted to create an experience for our readers, to do something more for them, get close to them and enjoy wine with them. Being able to do this with food as well, and having a like-minded partner, worked so well in Singapore we just wanted to keep the momentum [going]. One of the things we always say is: we’re always going to be in the driving seat whenever we decide what wines to work with, where we want to go, what we want to do - then invite people to create that experience for our readership.
BD - It should be said this won’t be a short story. We started in Singapore and after coming to Hong Kong and Macau it won’t stop. It will accelerate and we want to bring regular and different types of experiences and wines to the public, since many countries in Asia are very food oriented and interested in culinary experiences.
LPB - We’re also both global companies, Robert Parker is one of the few wine publications that has a global presence, while the Michelin Guide has been global for a long time.
How was the process to develop the events in Macau?
BD - To organise events like this, where you invite chefs from all over the world and have to gather many people and customers in gala dinners, you need to have large venues and nice locations that are well-equipped, with nice kitchens, but also good staff so that the chef can make his best. Melco is our venue partner here, offering the framework to organise these events.
LPB - Unfortunately with events, sometimes we’re a little bit limited in what we can pick, because we have to have a place with the ability to be able to host this kind of size and logistics. Bringing all these chefs and wines together, getting enough storage for the wines, bringing the glassware, it’s pretty challenging.
BD - Just the servicing of very nice food and wine at the right temperature and with the right preparation, you really need excellent professionals to do it. So the venue partner is very important.
Are you looking for more local partners in Macau?
BD - Melco is our prominent partner, but we plan to have more events, with half of them in Hong Kong and other half in Macau and we’ll need more venues for them. We started with Melco because the opportunity was there and we wanted someone who could help us enter the market.
Is China a very attractive market for the food supply and dining sector?
LPB - Absolutely.
BD - When we say the public in Hong Kong and Macau, we’re also saying the Chinese market in general, maybe people from Taipei, Japan, Singapore and all over Asia. Macau is very central and that’s what we’re aiming for, we can reach many Asian customers from here.
Have you planned any events in Mainland China?
BD - Not yet. It’s a question that has been raised many times: which cities will be next. Singapore was a success and it motivated us to go to Hong Kong and Macau. We want to make some future successful events and will consider our future deployments.
What benefits do these dining events bring to the economies of the cities where they are held?
BD- I believe there are many benefits as to the outcome of the events. First, you have two prominent brands in the foodie industry organising food and wine tasting events in the city, which is a plus in terms of image, especially for tourism. I can tell you from what I’ve seen in many countries, the single biggest reason nowadays for travel is unique gastronomic experiences. I live in Japan and I can tell you foreigners going there nowadays are going to have 10 days of just eating. You can see the same in many countries in Asia. The fact that you get this image of restaurants and events of this level of Michelin Guide dining and Robert Parker wine tasting, I’m sure is a plus for tourism.
LPB - We have a mix of local and foreign chefs, so there’s a little bit for everyone, even people that live here will be attracted to come to the events. It’s about creating these really special and unique, in some cases even, once in a lifetime opportunities. We absolutely also want the local community to come too, but we want the events to be so special people will actually take a flight to attend and make a weekend out of it.
When we organised the gala dinner in Singapore, people took flights from very long distances just to be able to say they attended this event and they ate something created by Chef Joël Robuchon, something very unique at that event. Sometimes the wines are the show stoppers. We did an event in New York this year where we had a tour of vintage wines going back to 1961, and people came from Indonesia, China and Japan because it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
There are currently 19 restaurants in Macau with Michelin stars, mostly based in integrated resorts. Are these venues the only ones with restaurants of Michelin star quality?
LPB - Yes and no I suppose. I guess they’re the ones that have most of the restaurants of that calibre. It’s a bit of a hen and egg situation.
BD - Depends on the country, sometimes independent restaurants prefer to be in hotels.
LPB - It’s the same in Singapore, the best restaurants are either in hotels or casinos.
Macau is aiming to become a World Centre for Tourism and Leisure. What potential do you think the city has for these sectors and what can it change?
LPB - The food scene is something Macau can really develop.
BD - If you compare Hong Kong and Macau, Hong Kong has been a business and finance centre for very long, and it’s a larger city so it obviously has many restaurants and hotels. Macau has historically focused on gaming, but now we can see a slight evolution as to providing a wider entertainment experience, outside just playing cards. If you want people to stay longer you have to think as a foodie. If you’re coming for two or three days for fun, food will be a great part of the experience. If you don’t enjoy the food, you won’t come back to this place.
So, for Macau to become a more leisure-oriented destination, food will have to have more and more importance. If the city takes its unique local cuisine, combines it with international cuisine from Japan, France, Italy, and places it as paramount to the tourism experience, it will be a good strategy.
What are the trends now in terms of the wine business in Asia?
LPB - It’s still pretty traditional across Asia. In Mainland China and Hong Kong the market is mainly for red wine, with a big preference for Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux. In recent years there has been some branching out and some experimentation, which is pretty exciting. Particularly in Macau, which is a bit of a hub now in this area of Southeast Asia. There’s just been an explosion here in interest in wine - where becoming more experimental is the natural progression, with a switch from Bordeaux to Burgundy and appreciation for the finesse and lighter styles of Pinot Noir. Australian and New Zealand wines do very well here as well.
Macau is also a hub for entry of Portuguese wines to Mainland China. How would you describe their quality at the moment?
LPB - Portugal itself has gone through quite a transformation in recent years in terms of the quality of the table wines it produces, apart from their tradition of fortified Port Wines. Table wines are the fashion right now and Portugal has been proving it can produce world-class table wines, with real depth and complexity, and everything you look for in a great wine for a fraction of the cost you would pay for a Bordeaux. I believe their biggest challenge is in marketing, since in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, you have a very label-conscious market. Real wine lovers will come to discover Portugal wines, but the country can still do a lot to market them in entry point places like Macau.
So what does a restaurant need to have to get a Michelin star?
BD - It has to work hard. They have to remember the criteria to be rated from the Guide - that is judged by our independent inspectors - and work hard in the kitchen to satisfy their customers. If the chefs do their part in the culinary scene of Hong Kong and Macau, the ratings will come.
Michelin Guide rated restaurants in Macau
Three Michelin Stars (Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey)
- Robuchon au Dôme
- The Eight
Two Michelin Stars (Excellent cuisine, worth a detour)
- Golden Flower
- Jade Dragon
- The Tasting Room
- Zi Yat Heen
- Feng Wei Ju
One Michelin Star (High quality cooking, worth a stop)
- 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo
- The Golden Peacock
- The Kitchen
- Tim’s Kitchen
- Wing Lei
- Lai Heen
- Pearl Dragon