French bistro caught up in Michelin mix-up

Le Bouche à Oreille in Bourges, a small city in central France, is a modest, lunch-only bistro with 20 tables and a clientele mostly of local workers.
Le Bouche à Oreille in Bourges, a small city in central France, is a modest, lunch-only bistro with 20 tables and a clientele mostly of local workers.PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS

NEW YORK • Most restaurateurs would be thrilled to learn that their establishment had been awarded a Michelin star. But when Ms Veronique Jacquet heard the news on the local radio last week, she knew something was not quite right.

Her restaurant in Bourges, a small city in central France, is a modest, lunch-only bistro with 20 tables and a clientele of local workers. The cook works part time. Ms Jacquet is the only other member of staff, and between serving customers, she runs behind the bar to pour pints of beer.

On each table is a plastic covering and a bread basket. The lunch menu - buffet starters, a main course, a choice of cheese or dessert, and a jug of wine - costs €12.50 (S$18.80).

"I laughed out loud," she said. "It was impossible that this could happen to me. I run a small working- class brasserie, nothing to do with a gourmet restaurant."

The Michelin Guide released its 2017 rankings on Feb 9 and, with them, the much-anticipated online map of starred restaurants.

One star went to Ms Jacquet's establishment, Le Bouche a Oreille.

But they got the wrong Bouche a Oreille, by about 160km.

The award was intended for a restaurant of the same name in Boutervilliers, south-west of Paris.

To add to the confusion, Ms Jacquet's restaurant is on a street called Route de la Chapelle, while the Michelin-starred restaurant is on Rue de la Chapelle. Michelin said a technical glitch had put the Bourges restaurant on its map, creating the misunderstanding.

"Of course, we don't like to make mistakes," a spokesman for Michelin said, quoting Ms Claire Dorland- Clauzel, who is in charge of maps and guide activities. "To err is human. The most important thing for us is that neither restaurant was negatively affected."

As soon as the new map was released, both restaurants were inundated with calls from friends.

"One of my customers called me to ask if I had opened a second restaurant in Bourges," said Mr Aymeric Dreux, the chef and co-owner of Le Bouche a Oreille in Boutervilliers, which first received a Michelin star in 2015. "I had no idea what he was talking about."

Minutes later, Michelin called him to explain the mistake.

Anyone familiar with Ms Jacquet's restaurant would recognise the error immediately. Diners at a one-star Michelin restaurant can generally expect an exceptional meal in grand surroundings and they pay for the privilege.

In Boutervilliers, there are two rooms and a terrace. Comfortable armchairs surround the tables. Whether it is turbot, lobster or foie gras, each dish is plated artistically and priced at €28 to €52.

After the mix-up, Mr Dreux and Ms Jacquet spoke, joking about what had happened.

"I invited her and her young chef to come have dinner at my restaurant," Mr Dreux said.

Then came the media. Reporters from local, national and international outlets showed up at the two restaurants.

"Bouche a Oreille" means word of mouth, a form of advertising that may now be less necessary for Ms Jacquet's establishment.

"It's been spectacular advertising," she said.

For now, her clientele is steady.

"It's still my usual customers coming in every day," she said. "Maybe that will change now."

The two owners plan to keep in touch. "If I ever find myself in Bourges, I'll obviously come try her sausage and lentils, since that's her speciality," Mr Dreux said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'French bistro caught up in Michelin mix-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe