French chef sues Michelin over claims he used Cheddar cheese in soufflé

Celebrity French chef Marc Veyrat said on Tuesday that he has sued the famed Michelin guide after inspectors stripped his restaurant of its coveted third star, claiming they had botched their evaluation, in particular over a cheese souffle.

French chef sues Michelin over claims he used Cheddar cheese in soufflé

“I've been dishonoured, I saw my team in tears… to have them call you one evening without warning, without anything written down, without anything, to say 'That's it, it's over',” Veyrat told France Inter radio on Tuesday.

Veyrat's La Maison des Bois restaurant in the French Alps was demoted to two stars from the maximum three last January, just a year after he secured the industry's highest accolade.

He said the move plunged him into depression, and the furious chef later demanded that he be removed from the vaunted red guides – in vain.

“I put saffron in it, and the gentleman who came thought it was cheddar because it was yellow. That's what you call knowledge of a place? It's just crazy.”

The chef made his name with 'botanical' cooking at his restaurant in the Haute Savoie region. Photo: AFP

He claims the downgrade came after a Michelin inspector mistakenly thought he had adulterated a cheese souffle with English Cheddar, instead of using France's Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme varieties.

“I put saffron in it, and the gentleman who came thought it was cheddar because it was yellow. That's what you call knowledge of a place? It's just crazy,” Veyrat told France Inter.

His lawyer Emmanuel Ravanas had told AFP late Monday that Veyrat hopes the court will force Michelin to hand over documents “to clarify the exact reasons” justifying its decision.

He said a court hearing has been set for November 27 in Nanterre, just west of Paris.

“For decades, Marc Veyrat has been used to having his cooking graded, evaluated and compared, and he knows quite well that you don't own a star for life… He accepts it all, as long as the criticism is accurate,” Ravanas said.

Skiing accident 

Veyrat, 69, made his name with his so-called “botanical” cooking, employing the wild herbs gathered around his restaurants in his native Haute Savoie region.

Earlier this year the chef, who is instantly recognisable in France for his signature wide-brimmed black Savoyard hat and smoke-tinted glasses, had tried to get Michelin to hand over the inspector notes or the bills proving they had indeed dined at his establishment.

He also claimed that a new generation of editors at the head of the guide were trying to make their names by attacking the pillars of French cuisine.

But in a statement Monday, Michelin said it “understands the disappointment for Mr Veyrat, whose talent no one contests, even if we regret his unreasonable persistance with his accusations.”

“Our first duty is to tell consumers why we have changed our recommendation. We will carefully study his demands and respond calmly,” it said.

Veyrat's recovery of a third star for La Maison du Bois in 2018 capped a comeback after he was forced to give up cooking a decade ago after a serious skiing accident.

He had previously won three stars for two other restaurants.

The intense strains of reaching cooking's highest spheres — and the financial impacts of losing Michelin stars — have been highlighted in recent years by the suicides of several top chefs.

French chef Bernard Loiseau shot himself in 2003 after a newspaper hinted that his restaurant was about to lose its three-star status.

And Benoit Violier ended his life in 2016 just months after his Swiss restaurant was named the best in the world in the La Liste ranking.

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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!