The Michelin Guide comes back for a second year and brings with it celebration and criticism.
The unveiling of the Michelin Guide Turkey is, for some, akin to watching the Eurovision finals, if every contestant were to hail from Turkey. The live chat box during the broadcast is no different from the messages of fans during any sports match. It lights up incessantly with the names of young chefs in capital letters, with restaurant nominations bedazzled with more star emojis than there are in the Milky Way, and the occasional weird local restaurant mention, a place so unrelated to the review system that the owners probably only know it as a tire company.
Amid the enthusiastic excitement of about 4,000 people live streaming the event, the restaurant industry’s approach to the Michelin Guide is a bit more complicated. The readiness to snub, an inherent condition of working in the restaurant industry, is not something even Michelin can overcome. But the proclivities of the food stakeholders aside, Michelin has lost some credibility and good faith, especially in Turkey.
A little background: this is the Guide’s second year in the country. In its inauguration, 53 Istanbul restaurants were selected to be part of the guide, with 10 Bib Gourmand awards, 4 one-stars and 1 two-stars for TURK by Fatih Tutak. However, rather than celebrating, the industry was appalled at the selection. Starred restaurants and some other guide entries aside, the Guide overlooked some quintessential restaurants while awarding tourist traps, and went about its selection in an inconsistent way, mixing fine-dining restaurants and low-brow eateries in the same category. The Guide’s credibility and scrutiny were immediately called into question by the restaurant industry and diners.
This year, the hopes were high as the Guide promised a wider outreach, including Izmir and Bodrum in their map, with a more detailed approach to the regions. But again, it failed to address the same issues of consistency and scrutiny. Restaurants like Basta Neobistro, Apartıman, Smelt and Co., Casa Lavanda were not even invited to the ceremony when they are frontrunners of the Istanbul gastronomic scene. Many restaurants traditional in nature but high-brow in service and gastronomic output were not part of any category while lesser versions were awarded unexpectedly. And none of the restaurants from the previous year got an upgrade or lost a title.
To be honest, many in the Turkish restaurant industry are now aware that the Michelin Guide is a project far from a review of gastronomic purity. Rather a state-sponsored tool to boost tourism. And they have good reason to believe so. Shady establishments entering the guide, sudden praises in gastronomic tourism-friendly areas, close ties of our state-owned tourism organizations with inspectors’ rumors of inadequate inspections, and Michelin’s scandal upon scandal on a global scale, all contribute to this perception. I think, including myself, everyone is actually at peace with this. Even though we know it’s more of a tourism development project than and idealistic, purist guide created by anonymous and expert gourmets, witnessing hardworking restaurants get their due recognition and international fame, some even being rescued from the brink of bankruptcy, makes us content.
However, we still want to do the gossip. We want to commend and criticise. To point out the shortcomings and truths. Everybody has their list of unsolicited feedback. This year, Fauna got the recognition it deserved. But Cadde Nazende and Smelt and Co. were not considered. The unnecessary focus on hotel restaurants has decreased. However, many classic places with exceptional expertise are still missing. The question of which of our traditional formats can make it to this list and which cannot remains a big question mark. Well, they ventured outside Istanbul. But how do street foods in other countries get stars? And where are the meyhanes in the guide?
In my opinion, if there were a guide evaluating review mechanisms like Michelin, the Michelin Guide would not even be invited to the award ceremony. It simply fails in conforming to its own standards and lacks consistency. The “affordable but excellent” badge of Bib Gourmand boasts restaurants of wildly different compositions and price ranges. The fact that a casual börek shop and one of Etiler’s finest haute restaurants, Aman da Bravo, are economically in the same category is absurd.
No matter how satisfying it is to see the restaurants I appreciate receive due recognition, the impulsive and careless attitude of the Michelin Guide makes me reject its premise. An organisation that scrutinises whether a fork placed gently on the floor gets noticed, should be able to notice its internal inconsistencies casting a thick shadow over its evaluations.
Michelin as a tourism porject
I’ll make the effort to keep my idealistic complaints in the back burner and try to look at the big picture. According to the World Travel Media report, Turkey’s tourism revenue has increased by 73% in euros compared to 2019, making it the economy with the largest increase in Europe by a wide margin. According to the information shared by the Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy in his speech during the Michelin Guide ceremony, Istanbul’s visitors increased by 11.6% compared to the previous year, surpassing 13 million in the first 9 months of the year.
From anecdotal information from the industry we know that the impact of Michelin is clear: it’s becomes much harder to find a spot, especially in starred restaurants. The share of foreigner guests increases, in parallel to the willingness of travellers to pay higher bills. And restaurants capitalise on this marketing opportunity. Immediately after last year’s ceremony, many restaurants raised their prices. After all, so-called food enthusiasts who turned up their noses at the restaurant on the street the day before, after the guide announcement, rush to their phones to book a table. So it is undeniable that the Michelin Guide is a successful project, commercially speaking. Yet, its impact on the country’s gastronomy in the long run is debatable.
2024 Michelin Guide Turkey: Istanbul, Izmir, Bodrum
This year, the Michelin Guide left me with more questions than answers, and more eye rolls than celebrations. But what lingered in my mind and what I believe needs attention are as follows:
- In 2023, the guide featured 53 restaurants, while this year the number increased to 111. Seven of these are newly starred restaurants, 16 were added to the Bib Gourmand category, and 36 are new addresses in the guide. Izmir and Bodrum are the two new regions added after Istanbul. I’m sure Antalya is next, and hopefully, Southeast Anatolia is in the pipeline. This rapid geographical spread and guide expansion is important. Yet there is still a lack of understanding of how the high number of excellent traditional restaurants missing from the guide will be incorporated.
- In Izmir’s Urla region, not so surprisingly, six restaurants were included in the guide, three of them with a star: Hiç, Levan, Od Urla*, Vino Locale*, Beğendik Abi, and Teruar*. Also, Seray Kumbasar from Vino Locale received the Best Sommelier Award. Additionally, Urla restaurants were also awarded green stars as examples of sustainability. Thus, Urla became one of the places where the green star per square meter fell the most, apart from a couple cities like Paris and Kyoto. More than the Basque region of Spain, which can be considered a geographical equivalent to Urla (despite being much larger).
- Moreover, this year, the stage, like the previous year, was full of men. I guess Michelin tried to alleviate this imbalance by giving the microphone to female chefs when possible.
- This year, there were fewer expressions of gratitude to the tourism minister. In fact, except for the hosts, the corporate representative sponsors, and Fatih Tutak, there were probably none.
- Finally, the biggest source of embarrassment of the night, in my eyes, was the style of Gwendal Poullennec, the International Director of the Michelin Guide, and one of the hosts of the ceremony. His behavior was reminiscent of a haughty, culturally insensitive Frenchman. His statement in the opening speech about how much progress there has been in Istanbul’s gastronomy in the last year since the Micehlin Guide came to Turkey was the clearest example of orientalism I witnessed in recent times.
- Let’s overlook this and move on to the fact that, after accidentally revealing that Arkestra had won a star, he repeatedly mispronounced the name of Cenk Debensason, and Chef Debensason corrected him about several times on stage, to which he responded uninterestedly and made the mistake again. This attitude should not be expected from someone representing Michelin as an institution. What a shame.
- One thing everyone can agree on, I’m sure, is that the winner of the night was Osman Sezener, the chef of Od Urla. “Like every chef, it’s always been my dream to be awarded by Michelin.” is how he expressed his thoughts to me in an interview before the event. Although Sezener joined the Guide for the first time, he received invitations for three restaurants. This is already a rare occurrence. Getting one star each for two of his establishments (Kitchen and Od Urla) and an additional green star (Od Urla) is a great success.
What comes next for Turkey’s restaurant industry?
Now, let’s talk about what comes next. What do the star-studded and starless chefs who dazzled us on stage with their sparkling white shirts and shining smiles at the end of the ceremony mean for the future of Turkish gastronomy?
According to Kardelen Soyalp, sustainability consultant for Neolokal*, the restaurant that brought the first green star to Turkey, and one of the young talents in the sector, the arrival of Michelin has changed the psychology of people in the restaurant industry. Soyalp, who says, “Newly opened places started to position themselves according to the Michelin Guide,” believes that existing restaurants have also adopted the guide as a pressure factor. This pressure can be transferred from top to bottom, meaning young chefs entering the industry can start their careers with the wrong mindset and become disillusioned with the profession.
Burçak Kazdal, the chef and founder of Apartıman Yeniköy, emphasizes that the perception of values regarding the restaurants touched by Michelin in young chefs has changed. People are now making career plans based on Michelin report cards rather than the products of the restaurants, and he adds: “After all, the people who tell us if we do a good job should be our customers, our regulars.”
It’s an undeniable fact that the new generation will be in this industry with the looming presence of the Guide and will take steps accordingly, aligning their gastronomic career path with the pursuit of stars. Of course, the presence of the most prestigious, international evaluation system in our country creates a reference point globally. The guide will allow the country’s successful chefs to get the recognition they deserve abroad and introduce them to the world. It will open doors for internships and work for young chefs, strengthening their resumes. For our more experienced chefs, it’s an opportunity to be on the world stage, find investors, and extend their kitchens beyond borders.
Yet it comes down to whether this benefit will remain personal or expand to the collective. How many stars in the sky does it take to turn dark into light? Developing an ecosystem, elevating national cuisine, and creating generations rich in technical and equipment aspects are not just a few successful restaurants’ achievements. I hope that chefs adorned with stars will not only work for themselves but also make efforts to uplift those around them. Perhaps, in this way, the impact of Michelin will go beyond attracting foreign tourists to some restaurants.
2024 Michelin Turkey: Full List
Here is the full list. I’ve linked to those Dig in Istanbul recommends (some more entries are on their way like Arkestra, that’s been waiting in my editing to-do for the past year). Full honesty, I’ve been to maybe 95% of the ones in Istanbul, and more than half for Izmir and Bodrum. But I’ll be keeping recommendations limited to Istanbul for now.
Sankai by Nagaya, Istanbul
OD Urla, Izmir
Teruar Urla, Izmir
Vino Locale, Izmir
Maça Kızı, Bodrum
Circle by Vertical, Istanbul
OD Urla, Izmir
Vino Locale, Izmir
Hiç Lokanta, Izmir
Aida – Vino e Cucina, Istanbul
Aman da Bravo, Istanbul
Calipso Fish, İstabul
Circle by Vertical, Istanbul
Inari Omakase, Istanbul
SADE Beş Denizler Mutfağı, Istanbul
Tavacı Recep Usta Bostancı, Istanbul
The Red Balloon, Istanbul
Adil Müftüoğlu, Izmir
Ayşa Boşnak Börekçisi, Izmir
Beğendik Abi, Izmir
Hiç Lokanta, Izmir
LA Mahzen, Izmir
Tavacı Recep Usta, Izmir
İki Sandal, Bodrum
Otantik Ocakbaşı, Bodrum
1924 Istanbul, Istanbul
Akira Back Istanbul
Avlu Restaurant, Istanbul
Balıkçı Kahraman, Istanbul
Borsa Restaurant, Istanbul
Çok Çok Thai, Istanbul
Eleos Beyoğlu, Istanbul
Eleos Yeşilköy, Istanbul
Hakkasan Istanbul, Istanbul
Kiss the frog, Istanbul
Kubbeli Lounge, Istanbul
Lokanta 1741, Istanbul
Lokanta Feriye, Istanbul
Lokanta Göktürk, Istanbul
Park Fora, Istanbul
Rumelihisarı İskele, Istanbul
Seraf Mahmutbey, Istanbul
Seraf Vadi, Istanbul
Sofyalı 9, Istanbul
St. Regis Brasserie, Istanbul
Sunset Grill & Bar, Istanbul
The GALLIARD VadIstanbul, Istanbul
Tuğra Restaurant, Istanbul
Vogue Restaurant, Istanbul
Zuma Istanbul, Istanbul
İsabey Bağevi, Izmir
Kasap Fuat, Izmir
Ristorante Pizzeria Venedik, Izmir
SOTA ALAÇATI, Izmir
Dereköy Lokantası, Bodrum
Ent Restaurant, Bodrum
Hakkasan Bodrum, Bodrum
Isola Manzara, Bodrum
Kısmet Lokantası, Bodrum
Kurul Bitez, Bodrum
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