Here's why Toronto doesn't have a Michelin-starred restaurant
In Toronto's ongoing effort to be seen as a global destination on par with New York, London, and Paris, the lack of any Michelin-starred restaurants within the city remains a noticeable difference.
It's no secret that people in Toronto have an intimate relationship with local restaurants, and who can blame them? The city's diverse population is best reflected in the sheer amount of choice available come meal time.
Just about every nation and culture is well-represented through Toronto restaurants, both in quantity and quality. Canada's 100 best listed four Toronto restaurants as being within the top 10 of the entire country, including Alo at first overall.
Chefs who have received Michelin stars cooking out of other cities have moved to Toronto to open up new locations here. Don Alfonso 1890, Konjiki Ramen, and Sushi Masaki Saito are all the result of Michelin-winning chefs seeing the potential in Toronto's food scene and expanding into the city.
So why is it that The Michelin Guide is yet to visit Toronto, or even Canada as a whole? In 2020, they announced global expansions to Moscow, Belgrade, Slovenia and Malta, once again leaving Toronto off the list.
However, an appearance on the Michelin Guide isn't quite as easy as sending a food critic to have a meal and give a quick writeup. Part of the prestige found within earning a Michelin star is the sheer difficulty and time constraint that goes into acquiring one.
According to Nora Vass, Director of Food and Travel Experiences for Michelin North America, their inspectors apply five criteria defined by Michelin: quality of the ingredients, cooking skills and harmony of the flavours, the chef's personality as expressed in the cuisine, value for money and consistency over time and across the entire menu.
Consistency over time and across the entire menu is the factor that makes awarding Michelin stars a difficult task.
There are only about 120 anonymous Michelin inspectors worldwide, and The Michelin Guide will send different inspectors to a restaurant over the course of a year to ensure that the quality of food is consistently remarkable regardless of season, time of day, or day of the week.
Restaurants can be anonymously reviewed three or four times, and as many as ten times if under consideration for a three-star rating. All Michelin inspectors are then expected to compare notes across the menu and come to a consensus before bestowing the Michelin star title on any establishment.
Needless to say, the process of awarding a Michelin star is a costly one for Michelin itself. Since the inspectors are anonymous, there's no chance of receiving free meals as many food critics do.
Because of this, Michelin not only foots the bill for each of these high-end restaurants but also must pay off travel costs, lodging, and of course the salary of each inspector on assignment.
Nick Di Donato, CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group, suggests that this cost of doing business is the prime factor behind why the Michelin Guide has yet to visit Toronto.
He estimates that it would cost around a quarter of a million dollars for Michelin to come to Toronto and properly evaluate the city's food scene.
If Michelin could justify that cost as an investment which would see them sell more guides, generate more traffic to their websites, and generally improve the Michelin brand, then it would only be a matter of time before restaurants in Toronto started to receive their own Michelin stars.
"In my opinion, Toronto definitely has several restaurants which would be one star Michelin, two star, and maybe even potentially a three star Michelin restaurant," explained Di Donato, who has visited countless Michelin-starred restaurants across the world himself.
"Within the Michelin category, Toronto has lots of restaurants that would fit in that, particularly within the one star area."
The question then shifts to what Toronto can better do to attract the attention of the Michelin Guide, and international audiences as a whole, as a must-visit location for fine dining, culture, and tourism.
Changes such as allowing restaurateurs to purchase wine themselves from anywhere in the world without having to go through the AGCO, opening up streets and boulevards to pedestrians, or easing restrictions on patios and the serving or carrying of alcohol could all contribute to giving Toronto's culinary experience a more organic feeling.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the hospitality and tourism industry, some good may end up coming out of it, as it has forced Toronto to ease up many of its restrictions on the industry.
Restaurants are finally able to spill out onto the sidewalks (when we're not under lockdown, that is) and directly sell customers alcohol for home consumption.
When dining out once again becomes a safe option, it's important that the city continues to ease such restrictions in an effort to support local restaurants, bars, and cultural hotspots so the city can thrive and draw international attention.
Compared to other cities, Toronto already has a major advantage for tourism and culture, claims Di Donato.
"Niagara Falls is one of the Wonders of the World. So somebody will travel from anywhere around the world to come see Niagara Falls and tie that in with the culinary scene of Toronto, that's an incredible vacation for people to actually do."
Even for those not willing to travel to Niagara Falls, Toronto is rich with tourist destinations such as the CN Tower, AGO, ROM, or Hockey Hall of Fame.
As Toronto continues to establish itself as a cultural hotspot, the success of locally born stars such as Drake and The Weeknd continues to keep more and more eyes locked onto the city.
With dozens of high-quality restaurants inspired by the diverse cultures within the city, a number of tourist attractions, and a growing international reputation, it seems as though it's only a matter of time before Michelin makes its way to Toronto and awards some of the city's best restaurants with stars of their own.
When it comes to culture and cuisine, Toronto has been dealt a winning hand — now all the city has left to do is play their cards right and show the world what it's got.
Hector Vasquez at Don Alfonso
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