French chefs stew over renowned restaurant's loss of Michelin star

The world of French fine dining has become embroiled in yet another ratings row due to the removal of the three-star Michelin ranking from renowned chef Paul Bocuse’s restaurant, almost two years after his death.

The Auberge du Pont de Collonges, situated near the gastronomic capital of Lyon in south-east France, was the oldest three-starred restaurant in the world, having held the ranking without interruption since 1965.

In a rare move, the Michelin boss, Gwendal Poullennec, visited the restaurant on Thursday to deliver the news that the rating had been lowered after 55 years. The decision prompted anger and dismay from Bocuse’s peers.

Poullennec told France Inter radio: “I understand the team’s emotion. It’s a difficult decision but for Michelin, it’s a fair decision.” Changing the ranking to two stars was based on meals eaten there in 2019, according to Poullennec, who said the decision was reached collectively by Michelin inspectors. A restaurant rating always “reflects the current value of a meal. There is no special treatment in a Michelin guide”, he added.

The Bocuse d’Or organisation, which holds the annual international cooking competition Bocuse created, greeted the announcement with sadness and expressed its “unwavering support” for the restaurant.

Bocuse’s family and kitchen team said they were upset by the decision. Celebrity chef Marc Veyrat, who recently sued the Michelin guide over a lost third star, described the move as “pathetic”.

Veyrat said he had lost faith in a new generation of Michelin editors, whom he accused of trying to make a name for themselves by taking down the giants of French cuisine.

“Monsieur Paul”, as Bocuse was known, died in 2018 aged 91, from Parkinson’s disease. Described as the pope of French cuisine, he was one of the country’s most celebrated chefs. He shook up the food industry in the 1970s by creating some of the lighter dishes of the nouvelle cuisine revolution and helping to introduce the notion of a celebrity chef.

Food critic Périco Légasse told BFM television the Michelin guide had committed an irreparable error in a quest for media attention. Meanwhile, three-starred chef Georges Blanc tweeted: “I am sad for the team that took up the torch at Collonges.”

After several weeks of renovations, the restaurant is scheduled to reopen on 24 January, three days before the latest Michelin Guide’s official launch.

According to Michelin, restaurants are selected on four criteria: the quality of the products, expertise of the chef, originality of the dishes and consistency throughout the meal and across seasons.

Critics say, however, the costs of ensuring such standards have made Michelin stars an untenable proposition as more diners baulk at spending excessively on a meal.

In recent years, a handful of French chefs have relinquished their prized three-star status because of the stress of being judged by Michelin inspectors.

For the first time, in 2018, the guide allowed a restaurant to withdraw from its listings after Sébastien Bras, the chef at Le Suquet, said he no longer wished to cook under such pressure. He added that he wanted to be allowed to cook excellent food without suffering anxiety over Michelin’s anonymous judges, who could arrive at his restaurant at any moment.

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