French Michelin Guide shaken up by shock downgrade of top restaurant

Cooks at work in the late chef Paul Bocuse’s restaurant, the Auberge du Pont de Collonges, which was recently stripped of one of its three Michelin stars. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • It is the annual event that has accomplished chefs quaking in their toques, as this year's edition of the Michelin restaurant guide for France reveals the winners and losers of its coveted ratings stars.

But this year's edition of the so-called gastronomy "bible" caused a stir even before its official release when it was revealed Michelin had stripped renowned chef Paul Bocuse's flagship restaurant of one of its three stars.

The red guide, which can make or break culinary reputations, angered many in the industry by downgrading the iconic Auberge du Pont de Collonges - the world's oldest three-starred restaurant.

Bocuse, who was nicknamed the pope of French cuisine, died in 2018.

But Michelin boss Gwendal Poullennec defended the move by insisting stars are not inherited and "must be earned every year".

"We obviously understand the emotion that the loss of a star can provoke, but there is no exceptional treatment," he told Agence France-Presse. "All establishments are evaluated anonymously by our inspectors every year... whether you are an iconic chef or a young chef who takes the risk of being plunged into debt by opening a restaurant."

Mr Poullennec said no other three-starred restaurants ran the risk of being downgraded in this year's guide.

According to Michelin, restaurants are selected based on four criteria: the quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavour and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef reflected in their cuisine, and value for money and consistency between visits.

One star denotes "high quality cooking", two "excellent cooking" and three "exceptional cuisine".


Of 30,000 restaurants listed worldwide, only about 130 have attained the highest distinction of three stars.

Critics say the process has rendered Michelin stars untenable, as more and more diners baulk at spending a fortune on a meal.

A handful of French restaurateurs have in recent years relinquished their prized three-star status because of the stress of being judged by the Michelin inspectors.

The 2003 suicide of chef Bernard Loiseau was linked, among other reasons, to speculation that his restaurant was about to lose its three-star status.

Last year, Michelin downgraded three restaurants with three-star ratings: the Auberge de L'Ill in Alsace, which held the accolade for half a century, Pascal Barbot's Parisian restaurant Astrance and Marc Veyrat's Alpine restaurant La Maison des Bois, which was awarded its third star just a year earlier.

Veyrat sued the guide for suggesting - wrongly, as he insisted - that he had used cheddar cheese in a souffle. His lawsuit was rejected.


The guide was born in a very different form, when brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin, founders of the eponymous tyre company, launched a travel guide in 1900 to encourage motorists to take to the road and so boost Michelin's business.

There were fewer than 3,000 cars in France at the time.

Initially free, the red guidebook included maps, a how-to on changing tyres, and lists of petrol stops, mechanics, hotels and eateries along the route.

The first run of 35,000 copies was such a success that guides for Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Spain followed.

The three-star ranking for restaurants was introduced in 1931.

In 2005, the Michelin Guide branched out of Europe with a New York guide, followed in 2007 by editions for San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

It moved to Asia with a Tokyo version in 2008 and 90,000 copies, in both English and Japanese, flew off the shelves in 48 hours.

More than 30 million Michelin Guides have been sold, according to the company's website.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2020, with the headline French Michelin Guide shaken up by shock downgrade of top restaurant. Subscribe