Speaking of Whistleblowers, Michelin Gets Caught Red-Handed in Korea: An Unfolding Saga.

Late-breaking on November 17 from World Daily. Chef Yoon Yoon-Kwon who owns the Italian restaurant Eo filed a law suit on May 15, 2019 at the Seoul Central Prosecutor’s Office against Michelin Travel Partner, publisher of the Michelin Guides. He had asked that his restaurant, which is listed in the Seoul Guide with a Michelin Plate, be taken out of the guide and accused Michelin. naming  former Asian Guide Director Alain Frémiot  of running a consulting service on the side, entering into contracts with restaurants and giving them advance warning of inspector visits, sharing the evaluations and essentially selling stars. The suit also cites the harm that Michelin has done to the the food industry.

Since the time that the Guide Michelin commissioned in 2015 a guide to Seoul, paid for by the government’s Korean Tourism Organization, journalists and food authorities have questioned the endeavor in terms of the high price the organization is paying Michelin (about $350,000 a year for four years); the incoherence and inconsistencies of the ratings; and even if Seoul’s restaurant scene is worthy of a guide of its own. In addition, there have been rumors of stars for sale in the face of Michelin’s international guide director Gwendal Poullenec’s never failing to mention how Michelin’s vast in-house-trained army of inspectors have, like everywhere else, go about their anonymous visits. Now, however, Yoon Kyung-Sook, the woman who owns the restaurant Yun-Ga Myung-Ga in Seoul has come forward with documents that without doubt show how corrupt the Michelin Guide for Seoul is and how Poullennec and his minions have turned a blind eye to the rumors that are now irrefutable fact.

The essentials of the scandal are presented in this link(  KBS report )to the Korean Broadcasting Corporation’s (KBS) exposé. Yoon Kyung Sook signed this contract in 201587DB1627-03AA-4778-A711-5934A3764504 with the American shown in the video, Ernest Singer, a Tokyo-based wine importer, and the Hong Kong firm Angle Production, owned by a hyper-foodie named Danny Ip. Disliking the situation, she backed out of the contract, a copy of which she provided to KBS along with some Facebook messages she received from Singer.3D413E6F-0899-4FC8-898A-3B443E90EEB8_1_201_aAs a result, her luxurious restaurant, which she spent a large sum to build in time to be in the first guide, was omitted from it. Another journalist, Chang Hoon Lee, wrote that the two three-star restaurants in the guide and a one-star restaurant did pay Singer.

It remains to be seen if the Korea Tourism Organization renews its collaboration for future Michelin Guides, the current contract for which ends with the 2020 edition, which appeared the day after the KBS story. With its credibility now definitively shot, you wouldn’t think so, even though Poullennec stated that Michelin has no intention of ending the guide. However, according to a story in the Korea Joongang Daily. Poullennec said he was considering it. In addition to having conducted an investigation that uncovered no malfeasance, he also made the irrelevant statement that “If someone is asking for money to provide consulting, it is the ultimate evidence that they are not working for Michelin”. It begs the question where is the gatekeeper and what happens when the editorial staff gets together to decide the restaurants that are to be included and with which ratings.  What is certain, however, is that in the face of the questioning and skepticism that has existed since the first edition of the guide, Michelin Travel Partner did nothing anyone can see to prevent the fiasco other than taking the money without taking any remedial action in four years.

KBS has expanded its year-long investigation that includes sending a reporter to Tokyo, zeroing in on Singer and former Asian guide head Alain Frémiot

.A  new report from KBS  appeared on November 14. KBS investigation. The broadcast is in Korean. Here is a summary of it:

There are two restaurants in question, the aforementioned Yoon-Ga Myung-Ga in Seoul and a second Yoon-Ga Myung-Ga in Tokyo that is owned by the older sister Mi-Wol Yoon.

There are two persons in particular who are also connected to these two restaurants:

  1. Alain Frémiot
    .

2, Ernest Singer

The broadcast reports on a series of events related to all four parties, but doesn’t fully explain how all of this came to be, although a scenario isn’t difficult to imagine given the actors and their roles.  However, it goes into some detail about the timing of the events:

– May 2013: Yoon-Ga-MyungGa in Tokyo opens for business.

– August 2013: Alain Frémiot visits Yoon-Ga Myung-Ga in Tokyo with an unnamed gentleman who is a Michelin inspector, and orders the cheapest dish on the menu.

– December 2013: Yoon-Ga-Myung-Ga receives two Michelin stars.

– December 2013: Alain Frémiot brings Ernest Singer to Yoon-Ga Myung-Ga in Tokyo, and introduces him.  Singer offers his services as a consultant, saying something to the effect  that when you open another location in Seoul Korea, I can get you another Michelin star in two years.  At this point, there is no Michelin guide in existence in Seoul, Korea, but Singer has advanced knowledge of it.

– May 2014: Yoon-Ga Myung-Ga opens a new location in Seoul, Korea. For two years, this restaurant in Seoul prepares for a Michelin star following Singer’s instructions, Singer having told the owner that there is a 95% chance that Michelin will be publishing a guide to Seoul.

– January 2015: Alain Frémiot visits Yoon-Ga Myung-Ga in Seoul.

– November 2016: The Michelin Guide for Seoul is published for the first time.

This has been a year of unceasing black eyes for Michelin Travel Partner, especially in its home country. The French press has written negative story after negative story: Renown chef Marc Veyrat is taking it to court this month in a hearing that may expose the myth of Michelin-employed inspectors and the number and rigor of its inspections; the scandals with other guides in Asia; and chefs are realizing that they can depend less on Michelin for their financial well-being. Barely a month goes by without the people in the head office in France either stepping in it or getting stepped on. Now new storm clouds are gathering over Asia.

Update: The story has taken on more intrigue and appears to be headed in an intriguing direction. Chang Hoon Lee of the website World Daily obtained a receipt from the Shilla Hotel (see below) whose Layeon Restaurant is one of the two three-star restaurants in the Seoul Guide, The bill shows what the Shilla owed Ernest Singer for the food he assessed for the guide, his hotel room, a portion of his kickback/consultation fee and some drinks. What is more interesting, however, is that the receipt shows that Singer was/is still  employed by, or does work for, the Robert Parker-founded “Wine Advocate” that Michelin owns a large part of. In 2016 an astute wine blogger, Blake Gray of “The Gray Report” discovered that on the day the “Wine Advocate” published its first saké ratings, the Singer-owned company A Taste of Saké was offering all 78 brands that received 90 or more points in the review. You can read the “Gray Report ” story here. Gray Report . Even more interesting than obtaining the saké clearly before the review appeared is that “Wine Advocate” editor Lisa Perrotti-Brown previously worked for Singer’s Tokyo firm Millesimes. Might there be a fascinating nexus among Singer,Frémiot, Michelin, the Wine Advocate, Lisa Perretti-Brown? Watch this space.

 

 

 

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