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Toronto’s food scene is getting a place on the coveted Michelin map —  in a Canadian first

Long known by foodies for its tapestry of multi-cultural flavours, Toronto will now have a place on one of the most coveted of culinary maps: the Michelin Guide.

Starting for the first time this fall, a selection of the city’s restaurants who make an inspectors’ cut will receive anywhere from one to three Michelin stars. 

Chef Alvin Leung, who grew up in Toronto and himself holds three Michelin stars, said diversity is “what Toronto is about.” (CBC)

Michelin Guides are a series of guide books published by the French company Michelin. Every year the guide awards Michelin stars to restaurants that exhibit culinary excellence.

Inspectors have already begun visiting various spots in the city and will continue their work over the next few months in secret — meticulously maintaining their anonymity with nameless reservations and paying in full for meals in order to be treated like any other customer, according to Michelin North America.

“This further bolsters our reputation as a world destination for food and cuisine,” Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, said in a news release. 

“Our diverse city, along with the many renowned chefs who call Toronto home, have helped us get to this point and to be able to showcase all of the wonderful restaurants.”

‘Time will tell’ if guide represents Toronto’s diversity

The announcement, held at Toronto’s ritzy Four Seasons Hotel, comes after a long two years of uncertainty for restaurants that have been strained by closures and restrictions throughout the pandemic. Tory alluded to those difficulties, encouraging Toronto residents to continue “supporting and celebrating the revival of Toronto restaurants” as the city awaits the list of Michelin-stamped eateries.

Inspectors will base their decisions on what Michelin says are five universal criteria: quality of the products, mastery of flavours, mastery of cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in the cuisine and consistency between visits. 

Gwendal Poullennac, international director of the Michelin Guides, says people from more than 20 nationalities make up the guide worldwide. (CBC)

“Even the most casual diner knows what Michelin is and the prestige that comes with that,” said Karon Liu, food writer with the Toronto Star.

However, in past years, Michelin has come under fire for a lack of diversity in its listings and for not rewarding restaurants that reflect the broader demographics of different regions, says Liu. 

He says “time will tell” whether that changes with Michelin’s Toronto guide.

Asked about that criticism Tuesday, Gwendal Poullennac, international director of the Michelin Guides, said the people who make up the guide worldwide come from 20 nationalities. 

“For an inspector, what it is important is to be always open-minded,” he said. 

Why are we willing to pay $25 for a plate of handmade pasta and maybe only $10 for a plate of handmade noodles?– Ann Hui

Ann Hui, national food reporter at The Globe and Mail and author of Chop Suey Nation, says another question some may be asking themselves is: “Why now?”

“For a number of years already Canada and Toronto specifically, definitely Vancouver, definitely Montreal — we’ve had world-class restaurants for a long time,” Hui said.

During that time, she said, there have been important conversations about how we value food, labour, diversity in dining and the disparity in price expectations when it comes to dishes from certain cultures. 

Those questions include: “How much are we willing to pay for certain cultures’ foods? How much are we willing to pay for people’s labour? Why are we willing to pay $25 for a plate of handmade pasta and maybe only $10 for a plate of handmade noodles?”

Chef Alvin Leung, who grew up in Toronto and himself holds three Michelin stars, said diversity is “what Toronto is about.”

“There are lot of these neighbourhood restaurants that I’m sure Michelin will have a hard time digging up, but they will find them because they always find the best.”

“It’s a really proud day for me,” Leung said at Tuesday’s announcement.

The Michelin Guide’s foray into Toronto also marks a first for Canada, said Poullennac.

“This first selection for Canada’s largest city, and our first in the country, will represent the local flavours, international inspiration, and distinct creativity that makes Toronto’s dining scene world-class.”

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