TOKYO – The Epicurean king who oversees the Michelin Guide fears he may be banished from France.
His shocking crime?
Awarding Tokyo more three-star restaurant ratings than Paris, thereby crowning the Japanese metropolis the new gastronomic capital of the world.
"Trust me, they'll wait for me at customs there," Jean-Luc Naret, director general of the famed guide to exceptional eateries, joked Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. "Because they'll say how dare could you have more three-stars in Tokyo than in Paris?"
Michelin's latest Tokyo edition goes on sale in Japan on Friday, and Naret has been in town this week promoting what many consider to be the bible of culinary skill. This time, Michelin's undercover team of inspectors has bestowed its highest three-star rating to 11 restaurants in Tokyo, one more than in Paris.
Tokyo also beats Paris in the total number of stars received — 261 awarded to 197 establishments.
That's 34 more than when the venerable guide made its Asian debut in Japan in 2007.
Michelin's ranking system considers the quality, consistency and value of a restaurant's food, with three stars designating "exceptional cuisine, and worth the journey," without taking into account the service or ambiance, according to the guide.
The first Tokyo edition sold 300,000 copies — 150,000 of which were snapped up in the first 24 hours. Since then, Michelin has released guides for Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Osaka and Kyoto in western Japan.
Not everyone in Japan was pleased that Michelin had landed in Tokyo. Critics attacked its culinary selections. Some chefs said they didn't want to be in the book. Others questioned how a group of foreigners could judge Japanese food.
To mollify naysayers, the company used only Japanese inspectors for the 2010 Tokyo edition, Naret said.
Placating his fellow Frenchman may be another matter.
"Forget everything that you know about Japanese food," Naret said he would like to tell Parisians. "Just go to the other side of the world, and you will understand what Japanese food is all about."
Naret added that statistically speaking, it's not really a fair contest. Tokyo is home to 160,000 restaurants, compared to 60,000 in Paris.
And France still wins the country count with 25 three-star establishments nationwide to Japan's 18.