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Chef Chan Hon Meng of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle / photo: womensweekly.com.sg

Michelin Awards: A double-edged sword for hawkers?

Since the reception of the Michelin star honour on 21 July, business went on as usual for many of the award winners in Singapore.

Read: Singapore gets its first edition of the Singapore Michelin Guide

Many would think that awards would surely help the winners in increasing their customer base but are they happy with the outcome and is there any drawbacks for being in the public limelight?

Like a double-edged sword, a star can cut both ways.

Todayonline covered a comprehensive report concerning this matter this afternoon (8 August).

It reported that since the announcement of his one-Michelin star honour, the 51-year-old Chef Chan Hon Meng of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle .... is tired, both mentally and physically. He has been working 17-hour days, an hour more than what he used to put in.

Yet, this is not enough to satisfy everyone, and by 4pm or 5pm, one of his two workers would go down the line to tell disappointed patrons that they have run out of food.

“I feel bad when I’ve to turn people away. I just do my best,” said the chef to Today.

He also faces a dilemma. “Of course, I want to retain my star or even get one or two more. But, honestly, how? I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“They (Michelin) say just do what I’m doing. But I don’t even know what got me my Michelin star in the first place; my guess is the chicken, of course.”

Chan says he is in “a bit of a predicament”. Consistency is not only an important benchmark in the Michelin assessment, it is also demanded by consumers who vote with their wallets.

“If I try something new, my old customers may not like it. But if I keep doing what I’ve been doing, then in a way, I wouldn’t get better,” he said.

Chan thinks he has to get better to be able to retain his star, though he also knows he cannot simply lay claim to his star forever. His priority now is to focus on the present, where he is really stretching himself to keep up with demand.

We can assume that Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles’ owner, Tang Chay Seng is facing the same situation.

And therein lies the good and bad of a Michelin honour, at least for the average hawker.

The Young Reporter Magazine reported in February 2016, not all Michelin-awarded restaurants in Hong Kong this year are rejoicing in the hope that the accolade might bring business.

Some face the pressure of rising rent which may lead to closure. This phenomenon was coined by the media as the “Michelin’s Kiss of Death”.

Since the 2016 edition of the Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide award, at least two of those food stalls have been told by their landlords that their rents would go up immediately.

Among them, Chiu Wing-yip, the owner of Kai Kai Dessert.

The owner said, “After we got the stars, the landlord increased our rent in the new contract by 120 per cent. That means we need to sell 5000 more bowls of sweet soups to cover the cost and I don’t think we can make it!” Mr Chiu said.

The shop’s owner, who inherited the family business from his father, said that he had received a notice that their monthly rent has been bumped from HK$100,000 to HK$220,000, Ming Pao reported.

For the two hawker stalls in Singapore, rental is least of their worries as the rental is governed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) but who knows if there would be any changes in the near future.

So the real predicament for the award receiver, especially the street hawkers in Singapore, might be; fame and fortune on one side, or plain fatigue and mental burden on the other side.