Knives are being sharpened in the elite world of French gastronomy after an acclaimed chef demanded that his restaurant, which recently lost one of its three stars, be withdrawn from the Michelin Guide – a request the publishers of the iconic red book have refused.
In an extraordinary letter, revealed by Le Point, Marc Veyrat railed against his demotion in January, voicing his doubts that the guide’s inspectors had even visited his restaurant, La Maison des Bois, in the Haute Savoie.
“I have been depressed for six months. How dare you take the health of your chefs hostage?” wrote Veyrat, who is known for his signature black hat. When Gordon Ramsay was stripped of a Michelin star at his New York restaurant, he compared the experience to losing a girlfriend and losing the Champions League.
Veyrat denounced the “profound incompetence” of the guide’s inspectors. “They dared to say that we put cheddar in our souffle of reblochon, beaufort and tomme! They have insulted our region; my employees were furious,” he said, according to Le Monde. “When we have eggs from our chickens, milk from our cows, and two botanists collect our plants every morning!”
In an interview with Lyon Capitale, Veyrat said the inspectors “know absolutely nothing about cooking! … Let them put on an apron and get in the kitchen! We are waiting. Let them show us what they know how to do … The Michelin, they’re basically amateurs. They couldn’t cook a decent dish,” he said.
Veyrat also demanded to be shown the bills from the inspectors’ visit. “You should be able to find that evidence,” he wrote to the publishers. “You are impostors who only want clashes, for commercial reasons.”
The guide’s international director, Gwendal Poullennec, said Veyrat’s restaurant has been visited “several times every year since he reopened”. But despite the chef’s request, La Maison des Bois would not be withdrawn. After all, Poullennec continued, the guide is working for the customers and not for the restaurant: “The stars are awarded by Michelin on a yearly basis and they are not the property of the chefs. They are for readers and foodies to give them the opportunity to discover an experience.”
In 2018, French chef Sebastien Bras asked for his restaurant Le Suquet to be withdrawn from the guide, saying he did not want to cook under the “huge pressure” of a potential inspection. His request was initially met – but this January, Le Suquet was re-listed, this time with two stars rather than three.
Poullennec added that he was sorry to hear of Veyrat’s suffering, but “we have to look forward. Maybe one day he will be back to the three star level, that’s a matter for him. But for that he has to focus on delivering the best experience for the customers.”
Eating at La Maison des Bois, which has a view of Mont Blanc, is described on Veyrat’s website as equivalent to “a veritable pastoral and mineral symphony in which nature’s bounty is displayed in each and every dish”. The “starry celebration” menu, priced at €395 (£354), offers dishes including “illusion” of caviar with trout eggs and “king prawns cooked in spruce bark”. The restaurant has its own botanical gardens, vegetable gardens and orchards, raises its own cows, chickens and freshwater fish, and makes its own bread and cider.
The Michelin write-up of La Maison des Bois remains glowing. The restaurant is, it says, “worth the detour”, with an “exceptional cuisine” – the best example of which is the “balade” in the woods “where flavours burst, escape, between herby notes, sap of fir and mushrooms”. The only downside, the write-up notes, is the price.
Despite Veyrat’s anger at being accused of using cheddar, no mention is made in the guide of the variety of cheese used in the souffle.
The Michelin Guide has its roots in the late 19th century, when brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin founded their tyre company and decided to produce a reference for motorists, filled with information for their trips. By the 1920s, the red book featured write-ups of of hotels and restaurants, which were reviewed anonymously by a team of mystery diners. The star ratings were introduced in 1926, with the hierarchy of zero, one, two and three stars brought in five years later.
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