5 things we learned from a former senior Michelin inspector

Former senior Michelin Guide inspector Heather Soto will be teaching a masterclass in Singapore on 18 November at the Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. (Photo: Heather Soto)
Former senior Michelin Guide inspector Heather Soto will be teaching a masterclass in Singapore on 18 November at the Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. (Photo: Heather Soto)

After traveling around the world for 11 years and assessing foods at nearly 5,000 eateries, Heather Soto finally left her job as a senior Michelin inspector to explore other career prospects.

By now, many Singaporeans have become familiar with the Michelin Guide ever since it launched the first Singapore edition in 2016. Prior to the publication of each annual guide, inspectors would trawl the country’s culinary scene to assess the foods before rating them with one, two or three stars.

Soto, who is currently in her late 30s, happened to be one of those mysterious inspectors before she left the role a few months ago. She is currently offering consultation services to many food start-ups, one of them being Singapore’s very own Homebakee.

The homegrown start-up focuses on providing services to home bakers such as masterclasses, which will help to improve skills or inspire them to start their own businesses. One of such masterclasses will be led by Soto herself and it will take place on 18 November at the Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.

Ahead of the event, which features two sessions, Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore caught up with Soto to find out all the juicy details of her life as an undercover Michelin inspector.

Second edition of MICHELIN guide Singapore was launched on 29 June 2017.
The second edition of the Michelin guide for Singapore was launched on 29 June 2017.

1. The job involves a lot of eating

Well, we’re not surprised. Soto spent the bulk of her 11 years as a Michelin inspector eating all sorts of foods from various cuisines.

“I cannot go into any detail. But, basically a lot of eating, assessing, traveling and eating some more!”

2. Be prepared to get food poisoning

If you’re thinking of becoming a Michelin inspector, you have to be prepared to go through bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea. According to Soto, one of the hazards of the job is food poisoning.

“An occupational hazard was food poisoning. It was hard to quickly regain an appetite after becoming seriously ill.”

3. It’s not a lonely job

The first time Michelin Guide Singapore explained to the press about the job scope of an inspector, we envisioned lonely individuals visiting various eateries on their own and dining alone. But, boy, were we wrong. According to Soto, you’ll have various other undercover inspectors to work with and you might just grow attached to them.

“I miss the meals, but I also had some former colleagues that I was quite close to. I have very limited contact with them now since they are still undercover.”

4. Not all Michelin inspectors are old French men

If you’ve been wondering who these inspectors really are, one thing’s for sure – not all of them are old French men. The Michelin Guide, which originated in France, hires inspectors from all over the world. Soto, for example, comes from America.

Another popular misconception regarding Michelin inspectors is related to their food judging criteria, with many people believing that a restaurant’s decor, ambience and service matter to inspectors when, in fact, they don’t.

According to Soto, high-end restaurants are not the only ones awarded stars. “Stars are based on the food only; decor, ambience, service, etc., are not factors,” she said.

5. It’s not just about the taste

When judging a meal, an inspector is expected to assess the “balance and harmonious compositions of ingredients, flavours, textures and aromas”. If a dish is able to score high points in all of these aspects, then it’s most probably Michelin-worthy.

“Tasting is a multi-sensory experience and all the senses must be in balance but also evoke a response in the person who is tasting,” said Soto.

During her upcoming masterclass, Soto hopes to equip home bakers with critical tasting skills, practical techniques to fine-tune the palate, impart understanding of how top pastry chefs innovate and inspire home bakers to assess their own products.

Prior to becoming a Michelin inspector, Soto attended the Culinary Institute of America, where she studied baking and pastry arts. She then worked at several restaurants and achieved her master’s in International Hospitality Management before securing an interview for a position as an inspector.

During her visit to Singapore, Soto hopes to try pandan desserts such as ondeh-ondeh and pandan cake. More information on how to register for Heather Soto’s masterclass on creating Michelin-star quality desserts can be found here.

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