(GUARDIAN) - One of France's most celebrated chefs, whose restaurant has been honoured with three stars in the Michelin guide for almost 20 years, has pleaded to be stripped of the prestigious ranking because of the huge pressure of being judged on every dish he serves.
Sébastien Bras, 46, who runs the acclaimed Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole - where diners look over sweeping views of the Aubrac plateau in the Aveyron while tasting local produce - announced on Wednesday (Sept 20) that he wanted to be dropped from the rankings of France's gastronomic bible.
Michelin said it was the first time a French chef had asked to be dropped from its restaurant guide in this way, without a major change of positioning or business model.
Bras said he wanted to be allowed to cook excellent food away from the frenzy of star ratings and the anxiety over Michelin's anonymous food judges, who could arrive at his restaurant at any moment.
Le Suquet had been consistently described by the Michelin guide 's restaurant judges as so good it was "spellbinding".
Bras, dressed in his chef's whites, announced his decision in a Facebook video with the local landscape rolling out behind him, saying: "Today, at 46 years old, I want to give a new meaning to my life ... and redefine what is essential." He said his job had given him a lot of satisfaction but there was also huge pressure that was inevitably linked to the three Michelin stars first given to the restaurant in 1999. He asked to be allowed to continue his work with a free spirit and in serenity away from the world of rankings, without tension. He said he wanted to be dropped from the guide from next year.
Bras, who took over the family restaurant from his parents 10 years ago, later explained to AFP: "You're inspected two or three times a year, you never know when. Every meal that goes out could be inspected. That means that, every day, one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged.
"Maybe I will be less famous but I accept that," he said, adding that he would continue to cook excellent local produce "without wondering whether my creations will appeal to Michelin's inspectors".
Reacting to his decision, Claire Dorland Clauzel, a member of the French tyremaker's executive committee, said: "We note and we respect it." She said the request would not lead to Le Suquet's automatic removal from the list, and would have to be given due consideration.
Bras said that like all chefs he sometimes found himself thinking of Bernard Loiseau, the acclaimed French chef who killed himself in 2003, an act widely seen as linked to rumours that he would lose his third Michelin star. "I'm not in the frame of mind," Bras said.
Bras is one of only 27 French chefs who hold top rankings in the Michelin restaurant guide. He is not the first chef to walk away from the competitive world of Michelin-star cooking. However, others have only done so as part of a closure or a radical change to their restaurants.
In 2005, Paris restaurateur Alain Senderens - one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine - shocked the culinary world by giving back his three stars, claiming that diners were turned off by excessive luxury. He later reopened the restaurant under another name, with a simpler menu at a fraction of his old prices.
In 2008, three-star chef Olivier Roellinger closed his luxury restaurant in the Breton fishing village of Cancale, saying he wanted a quieter life.