3 Dec 2008

Should we believe in the Michelin Guide on its new investigation of Chinese food?

"You don't have to be French to appraise French cuisine and you don't have to be Chinese to appraise Chinese cuisine."

That sounds fair, but that is also a false consciousness. I believe a 'non-French' criticizing French cuisine in front of a 'true-French' would definitely be harshly ridiculed. So when Micheline awarded three stars to the Cantonese restaurant, Lung King Heen (龍景軒), in Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, it must prepare itself from the possible criticism from both Chinese and Cantonese speaking readers.

First of all, the guide and the inspectors probably did not have sufficient understanding of the dining habit of Chinese. We rarely dine at a hotel restaurant. Usually it is special occasions, such as wedding banquets, that will bring Chinese to those restaurants. The reason of not going is nothing about pricing but 'habits'. It is normal for Chinese to consider these restaurants as places for tourists due to their location within the hotel. It is because of the size of hotel restaurants and the prestige of international hotels Chinese choose them for holding banquets. Though the quality of food is often considered, it does not mean these restaurants would be the first option for Chinese when they want to 'eat out'. If you travel to Hong Kong, you will be amazed by the long queue outside of some very famous but 'small' restaurants. These restaurants offer what the locals, the Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, and the overseas Chinese, consider 'the best Chinese/Cantonese food'.

The problem arises. Why these truly great ones are not awarded by the guide? Why aren't they investigated by these prestigious Michelin investigators? Of course, we cannot deny the quality of food offered by Lung King Heen in Four Seasons. However, what I could not understand is how such a restaurant that is not overtly acknowledged by Chinese as top over the top would receive a three-star status!

Let's come back to the notion of false consciousness. The guide creates a fantasy for its readers. Through its star system, it classifies the taste of food of these restaurants as 'divine', 'super good' and 'good'. So, what it suggests is only these listed restaurants are good ones, and the rest can be completely ignored because the food is not even 'good'. In the meantime, through the investigation of its investigators, the guide also guarantees the service, environment, and taste (which is used here to connote 'the value of life-style') of these restaurants. While the guide lifts up the value of these restaurants, it at the same time devalues the others. Therefore, what the guide reveals is a superficial world whose standard of value-judgment is no longer based on the quality and taste of food, but on the quality and taste (life-style) of upper-bourgeois society. It is through the strategies used to devalue could the upper-bourgeois society maintains the distance between itself and the unspeakable and inappropriate others. However, what is tricky here is the deceptive nature of the use of strategies. It is never obvious and always hidden behind a veil. As the guide shows us, it never tells you what is not appropriate. All it says is something good and prestigious, and all it tries to sell is these good and prestigious products. Since the nature of these products are highlighted, it becomes a fantasy that must be pursued. Pursuing this fantasy is nothing different from the accumulation of capitals. Pursuing leads to accumulation which is the nature of capitalism. Only this time what has been accumulated is something symbolic.

The guide helps to reinforce the consciousness of the upper-bourgeois society, which is also a class consciousness that has been applied to their domination of the world. Through the publish of the guide, it strengthens its status as a prestigious guide specially for the prestigious readers. Within this cycle, everything has been fetishized and nothing is true and about the real society. As for the other groups/classes, due to the power of media, the dominated status, and the same living environment as the dominant class (a world of commodities), they naturally follow that consciousness taking the world as a fantasy that must be pursued. However, since they lack the proper capital and knowledge to conduct such actions and maintain their positions, what they have developed is only an ideology, which is a set of obscure consciousness that is borrowed from the upper-bourgeois society. This ideology is a false consciousness that has been manipulated by the upper-bourgeois class for too long and has been turned into rules by which other people must abide (and naturally we all abide because of its been turned into norms).

There are more great restaurants in Hong Kong, and the taste of food of some restaurants should be way better than the one that is recently awarded three stars. How could we trust those stars? How could we listen to those so-called experts who probably don't even know what Chinese food is? After all, there are so many different types of Chinese food, and each has its own special taste and exquisite quality!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:02 am

    On one hand, you invoke Marxist terminology, blaming Michelin for its "upper-bourgeois" character. On the other hand, you appeal to what Communist theory would consider the false consciousness of (Chinese / Cantonese) ethno-nationalism. These dialectical contradictions can only be resolved by a McDonalds Kung-Fu Panda-burger.