SHARE
COPY LINK

FOOD & DRINK

Michelin guide allows pressured French chef to hand back his three stars

The Michelin guide allowed a top French restaurant to bow out of its listings Tuesday after its chef said he no longer wanted to cook under the "huge pressure" of being judged by its inspectors.

Michelin guide allows pressured French chef to hand back his three stars
AFP

It is the first time it has ever allowed a restaurant to withdraw from its pages.

Sebastien Bras, whose Le Suquet restaurant in the rural Aveyron region has held the maximum three-star rating from the gastronomic bible for 18 years, told AFP in September that he could no longer put himself through the ordeal of knowing that one below-par dish could cost him his reputation.

“It is difficult for us to have a restaurant in the guide which does not wish to be in it,” Claire Dorland Clauzel of Michelin told AFP.

“It is the first time we have had a public withdrawal of this sort,” she added, saying other restaurants had dropped out when chefs retired or the concept had changed.

Le Suquet, at Laguiole in south central France, will not feature in the guide's 2018 edition, which will be published next Monday, Dorland Clauzel
confirmed.

Bras, 46, caused shockwaves worldwide when he announced he was relinquishing the three stars currently held by an elite club of 27 French
restaurants.

“You're inspected two or three times a year, you never know when. Every meal that goes out could be inspected,” he told AFP.

“That means that every day one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged.

Agony of perfection

“Maybe I will be less famous but I accept that,” said the chef, who took over the famed restaurant from his father a decade ago.

He said he wanted to “start a new chapter” in its history “without wondering whether my creations will appeal to Michelin's inspectors”.

Bras confessed that like “all chefs” he sometimes found himself thinking of fellow Frenchman Bernard Loiseau — who committed suicide in 2003, an act widely seen as linked to rumours that he would lose his third Michelin star.

But “I'm not in the frame of mind”, he insisted.

Bras is not the first chef to walk away from the ultra-competitive world of Michelin-star cooking.

A handful of French restaurateurs have relinquished their prized three-star status.

In 2005, the late Alain Senderens — one of the pioneers of Nouvelle Cuisine — closed his three-star Art Nouveau Paris restaurant claiming he had
enough of the agony of perfection and wanted to do “beautiful cuisine without all the tra-la-la and chichi”.

Three years later, Olivier Roellinger closed his luxury eatery in the Breton fishing village of Cancale, saying he wanted a quieter life.

And last year Danish chef Rene Redzepi forfeited the two stars he won for his Noma restaurant when he closed it in order to move it to another part of Copenhagen, saying it was “necessary to break down a castle in order to build a new one”.

For members

FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

SHOW COMMENTS