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Saturday 13 Jul 2024

Singapore Single Stars
David Simmonds

Two lowly takeout stands are spreading hope, of cheap and cheerful eateries, to thousands around the world. The famous Michelin guide to three star (“exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”), two star (“excellent cooking, worth a detour”) and one star (“very good ... in its category”) restaurants has just published a guide for Singapore.

Two hawkers earn Michelin stars.

For the first time, two cheap food stalls, the proprietors, known, locally, as “hawkers,” received a Michelin star. One stall, “Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle,” now caters to such an uptick in business that its proprietor, a Mr Chan Hon Meng, says ‘any more I cannot cope and I don’t want to give people food that is not up to standard.” The other, “Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle,” owned and operated by Mr Tang Chay Seng, now faces a two-hour lineup for his famous bowls of minced meat and noodles. A Michelin mention, even a one star mention, can be exceedingly good for business; perhaps even too good.

The Michelin guide has never given one star to a food facility, of any sort, in Canada, let alone two stars or three stars. Mind you, it has never published a guide to Canada that includes restaurant ratings. In Europe, it’s different: a restaurant lives or dies by its Michelin star rating.

Success of Singapore hawkers spurs curb side poutine dealers.

The case of the Singapore food hawkers is fanning the flames of hope across Canada that we, too, will have a single star status once the Michelin people take on the Canadian project. Says Paul Splatter, the owner of “Paul’s Oriental and Canadian Food,” in Smiths Falls, Ontario, “I just know that they keep coming back every morning for my eggs over easy with home fries. If my customers show up so faithfully, I believe there’s a Michelin star just waiting with my name on it. I’ll even serve a side order of soya sauce if it would help.”

It’s not just restaurants eyeing potential stardom. Chip stands across the country are suddenly upping their game. In the Kawarthas, which have long fought the Wellington County area for supremacy in Ontario’s fabled butter tart wars, hush hush plans are implementing, feverishly, to launch a butter tart poutine and develop a clientele loyal enough to clamour for Michelin’s attention. Food trucks have also caught wind of the potential big payoff. Stan Smagoplski, of Wilno, runs a popular pierogi truck and has already developed an egg noodle flavoured pierogi product that he says is to die for. At press time, we were unable to confirm this assertion. “I’d wager my egg noodles are just as good as Mr. Chan’s, and I know that he can’t come anywhere close to me on the pierogi front,” said Smagoplski.

The excitement has spread all the way to Prince Edward County. Enid Grace runs the Passport FC food cart, at 305 Wellington Main Street. She specializes in foods of the world. She admitted, in an exclusive interview with the “Times,” that she had heard of the Singapore single stars and that the possibility of being awarded a single star, herself, gave her “something to live for apart from the massive profits I make at this game.”

Michelin Stars mean long line ups and huge profits.

Speaking of massive profits, another interesting trend seems to be developing as result of the Singapore single stars. Peter O’Grady own of the exclusive, “Pierre’s Luxe Francaise,” in the Kingsway district of Toronto, which serves high-end French Cuisenaire. O’Grady says, “why should I keep running this high overhead joint if I have a better stab at getting a Michelin rating and a big boost in profit running a baked potato stand on the Danforth?” The trend, in short, may be a rapid decline in the number of high end, low margin eateries in favour of low end, high quality low cost establishments with lots of upside potential should they earn a Michelin star.

All of this sounds great, of course, except for the critical fact that someone has to convince the Michelin people, who guard jealously the identity of their restaurant inspectors, to come to Canada. Once here, to venture out beyond downtown Toronto or Niagara Falls into the world of Smiths Falls, the Kawarthas, Wilno and, most importantly, Wellington Main Street. Offering inducement payments might be a tad shady, but sending a package of warmed over butter tart poutine over to Michelin headquarters, in France, could backfire. The drumbeat over our ‘just as good as Singapore single stars’ will just have to keep growing louder until it gives someone a headache.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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