However, a few months prior, the Guide had announced that three new awards would be added to the current portfolio of Bib Gourmands, Plates and Stars. This undoubtedly contributed to the atmosphere of anticipation at the award ceremony, the inaugural winners announced as Young Chef, Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn, of one-star restaurant Saawaan in Bangkok, Service award winner, Guillaume Barray, General Manager of Chef’s Table at Lebua, which also had another reason to be celebrating as the only one-star restaurant this year, promoted to the lofty heights of two.
The third award, the Green Star or clover for sustainable gastronomy was given to Phuket’s one and only Michelin starred restaurant, PRU, located at Trisara and collected by Chef Jimmy Ophorst who credited his team, the Phuket farmers and fishermen and rather touchingly, acknowledged his wife who whilst taking care of his young son, enables him to devote his energy and passion to this culinary celebration of local products.
Thailand still lacks the pinnacle of three Michelin stars, however the two-star listings of Le Normandie, Suhring, Sorn, R Haan and Mezzaluna were expanded with the elevation of Vincent Thierry’s Chef’s Table. One-star additions, all in Bangkok, were newly opened and widely predicted Blue by Alain Ducasse, led by Wilfrid Hocquet, Cadence by Dan Bark, the latter who previously held one-star at the now closed, Upstairs and lastly, Sushi Masato, helmed by Chef Masato, who has previously won Michelin stars in New York.
Whilst new stars were somewhat expected, with no real surprises to report, omissions of Gaa and Table 38 having closed earlier in the year, the diligent observer would find buried within the detail, Ruean Panya, awarded a Michelin star in 2019 and retaining it in 2020, featured this year as a Bib Gourmand.
As is the norm, Bib Gourmands had been announced the week before the launch with 106 restaurants and street food establishments, 65 located in Bangkok, 20 in Chiang Mai and 21 in Phuket and Phang Nga. This year, 17 are joining the list for the first time – nine in Bangkok, three in Chiang Mai and five in Phuket and Phang Nga. In the press release, it stated that four of these are “promoted” from the Michelin Plate (one from each provincial territory). The key word, I have highlighted, being “promoted”. This has created some online confusion and debate as bloggers comment that their understanding, and indeed mine, is that a Plate and a Bib are two distinct awards with totally different criteria. However, as is the way with Michelin, they rarely explain.
To many, a surprising listing of Chef Gaggan’s new restaurant, Gaggan Anand, now awarded a Michelin Plate, having previously held two Michelin stars at his now closed restaurant was far from most diners’ expectations. I also noticed several quite high-profile omissions, which suggest, perhaps they opened too late for consideration or with the temporary closures were unable to be visited within the allotted timeframe.
This year has been unprecedented in the history of the world and indeed our cherished hospitality industry. I am truly humbled when talking with the celebrated Chefs and Restaurateurs awarded Bibs, Plates and the holy grail of Stars. To have managed to survive this year and consistently deliver at their chosen or sought-after level is an achievement in itself. My thoughts are also with those hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs who are unheralded yet carry on, and of course those who sadly had to close their doors, unable to continue their dream.
Hospitality professionals are a resilient group of individuals, our industry has always been faced with challenges which we have overcome together. I remain confident that 2021 will be better than this year as this crisis has perhaps taught us to be more adaptable. I look forward to new innovative ventures opening and the gastronomic landscape of Thailand flourishing once more and, current highly rated restaurants pushing the envelope even wider with perhaps a temple of gastronomy of three Michelin stars in this our Land of Smiles!
My heartfelt congratulations to all award winners!
Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.