Michelin mix-up throws a French working-class bistro into a media storm

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

(NYTimes) - Most restaurateurs would be thrilled to learn that their establishment had been awarded a Michelin star. But when 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 mostly of local workers. The cook works part time. 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 euros (S$18.80).

"I laughed out loud," Jacquet 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 Jacquet's establishment, Le Bouche à Oreille.

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

The award was intended for a restaurant of the same name in Boutervilliers, southwest of Paris. To add to the confusion, 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 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 perplexed friends.

"One of my customers called me to ask if I had opened a second restaurant in Bourges," said Aymeric Dreux, the chef and co-owner of Le Bouche à 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 Jacquet's restaurant would recognise the error immediately. Diners at 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 euros to 52 euros.

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

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

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

"Bouche à oreille" means word of mouth, a form of advertising that may now be less necessary for 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," Jacquet 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 specialty," Dreux said.

Jacquet intends to take Dreux up on his offer.

And in case you are wondering, Monday's special at the lunch-only Bouche à Oreille is choucroute. It is a hearty dish from the Alsace region made of sauerkraut and various cuts of meat.