JERUSALEM (AP) — The leader of an umbrella organization representing world Jewry has asked the Michelin travel guide company to evaluate Israeli restaurants with its famous rating system, implying that the decision to omit the country may be political.
In a letter to the Michelin Guide, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said it is a "concerning omission" that Michelin does not have a guide to Israel.
"Israel today is a venerable amalgam of cultures and traditions, which come together to produce a distinctive and exceptional culinary scene," wrote Lauder. "Why, therefore, has your company refused to produce a guide to Israel's restaurants?"
"Though I am sure that it is not your intention, some have speculated that reasons other than merit color Michelin's decision not to visit Israel," Lauder, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, added. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.
Israel, particularly Tel Aviv, has a vibrant food scene, melding flavors from Jewish immigrants around the world with local Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. In recent years, Israeli cuisine has earned international acclaim, with Tel Aviv recognized by Saveur Magazine as an outstanding travel destination for food lovers in 2014.
At least one Israeli chief, Moshik Roth, has received a Michelin star, for his work in the Netherlands, while Israeli chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Assaf Granit have found success in Britain. Another Israeli chef, Michael Solomonov, has won the prestigious James Beard award in the U.S.
In Paris, Michelin Guide spokeswoman Samuelle Dorol said there has never been a Michelin Guide to Israel and there are no current plans for one, citing commercial reasons.
"We have not had the opportunity to do a guide there," she said. "But that doesn't mean we will never have one."
In general, she said Michelin Guide locations are chosen based on "gastronomic interest" and sales potential. "You have to have potential readers."
Michelin currently has guides for 27 countries and many city-specific guides. Among recent additions is a guide to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where no restaurants have earned even a single star from the three-star rating system.
But Michelin launched there anyway because of the potential for gastronomic development. "We sensed that something was happening in these cities," Dorol said.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.