Tourism Ministry greenlights entry of Michelin Guide to Israel

After years of negotiations, prestigious culinary rankings expected to debut in Tel Aviv, the only city where Michelin inspectors see ‘feasibility’ for review

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

A worker at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
A worker at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel is moving ahead with a years-long plan to bring the Michelin Guide to the local restaurant scene, the Tourism Ministry announced on Wednesday.

Tourism Minister Haim Katz (Likud), who entered the position a month ago, has given a green light to the introduction of the prestigious culinary guide, the ministry said, building on years of efforts by his predecessors.

In a statement, Katz said the Michelin inspectors currently see “feasibility” only in evaluating Tel Aviv’s restaurant scene, and will therefore work with the Tel Aviv municipality. Meanwhile, the ministry will work on the potential of expanding the coverage to other cities in the future, he said.

The deal is said to cost Israel about 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million), which the Tourism Ministry will split with the municipality.

Former tourism minister Yoel Razvozov of Yesh Atid pushed for the guide’s advancement during his term in office, which ended late last year. In an interview with Calcalist shortly before leaving office, Razvozov said a deal with Michelin was close to being signed, and that he would explain to his successor “the importance” of finalizing the agreement for economic reasons.

There was no immediate comment from Michelin on its potential entry into Israel.

Diners at the Abraxas North restaurant in Tel Aviv, February 22, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Michelin stars are considered the highest global honor for a restaurant, and are seen as driving tourism from culinary-minded travelers.

The Michelin Guide has never operated in Israel – considered a relatively small market – although it has been expanding its operations in the Middle East and launched in Abu Dhabi, Istanbul and Dubai over the past year.

The Tourism Ministry has been exploring the possibility for at least half a decade, including commissioning a study from Michelin in 2017 on Israel’s “gastronomy standing and potential,” the ministry said at the time, when it was helmed by Yariv Levin of Likud, the current justice minister.

The Tourism Ministry never publicized the findings of the study, but Michelin inspectors reportedly did not find any eateries in the State of Israel worth ranking at the time.

Local restaurateurs as well as global figures have long been clamoring for Michelin to bring in heavyweight rankings: in 2016, World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder wrote a letter criticizing the company for its “concerning omission” of Israel.

The esteemed Michelin Guide – launched by the tire company in 1900 and now operating in 40 countries – awards one, two or three stars to restaurants it deems worthy of a visit.

A handful of Israeli chefs with restaurants abroad have been awarded a Michelin star, including Moshik Roth for several locations in Amsterdam, Assaf Granit for Shabour in Paris, and Gal Ben Moshe for Prism in Berlin.

Even without Michelin’s say, Israeli restaurants have received many accolades in recent years as the country’s culinary scene blossoms – even winning six spots this week on a list of the 50 best eateries in the Middle East and North Africa.

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