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Korean Restaurant Owner Sues Michelin Over Alleged ‘Pay-for-Star’ Bribery

Yun Kyoung-suk, of Yunga-Myunga in Seoul, accuses the guide of fraud and attempted extortion

GERMANY-GASTRONOMY-GUIDE-FOOD Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

A Korean chef is suing the Michelin Guide over a consultant who purported to work for the guidebook and allegedly solicited a fee in exchange for a promise to secure stars.

The Korea Times reports that Yun Kyoung-suk, who owns Yunga-Myunga in Seoul, has filed a complaint accusing the guide of fraud and attempted extortion. Michelin denies the claims, and says it will take legal action against Kyoung-suk in response.

In a segment on Korean TV station KBS, Kyoung-suk explains that she heard about a “Michelin broker” named Ernest Singer, a Tokyo-based wine importer and US national, from her sister who runs the restaurant Yunke in Tokyo.

“The broker said that our restaurant in Japan received two Michelin stars, but I could easily receive three stars if the restaurant in Korea looked more traditional and provided services of higher quality,” Kyoung-suk told KBS. “I thought I was lucky to receive his help.”

Kyoung-suk initially signed $40,000 per-year contract, and raced to open her restaurant — with expensive traditional Korean decor — before November 2014, in a timeline she says was set by Singer. He does appear to have have some inside information: Singer approached Kyoung-suk before Michelin had even announced its plans for a Korean guide in 2015, which was published for the first time in 2016.

But Kyoung-suk later pulled out of the contract, and — related or not — she was not included in the Michelin Guide.

“Michelin does not engage in consulting activities,” a spokesperson for the guide told the Korea Times. “It doesn’t ask for money in return for selection and the so-called consultant connected with the accusation has no contractual relations with Michelin.”

Michelin does admit to interactions with Singer among other ”various industry officials.”

In mid-November, Michelin announced its most recent guide for Seoul, awarding stars to 31 restaurants. But in Korea, the credibility of the guide is already in doubt, and the latest scandal won’t help its case.

According to the Korea Times, local chefs have pointed out spelling and accuracy errors in the guide. And just weeks ago, chef Eo Yun-gwon of Ristorante Eo reportedly filed a separate lawsuit against the guide — this one for including the restaurant contrary to the chef’s requests to be left out.

“It is insulting that my name and the restaurant’s name have been listed in an unwholesome book,” Yun-gwon told the Korea Herald.

Eo, it bears noting, was downgraded from a star selection to a “plate” pick in the guide this year, but the chef claims that’s not the point. The problem, he says, is that the guide only considered 170 restaurants in Seoul, rendering the inspectors “unworthy of making an evaluation.”

“Though being listed in the Michelin Guide may have a great promotional effect on the restaurant, I don’t want any help from an opaque, subjective company,” Yun-gwon told the paper.

Kyoung-suk echoed that sentiment, telling the Korea Times, “What I need to find out is whether Michelin officials performed their duty in an appropriate way...[They] need to prove their inspectors came to Korea and paid for the meals themselves.”