Michelin allows French chef to hand back his three stars

Sebastien Bras is free of Michelin pressure as his restaurant, Le Suquet is left out of 2018 guide

 French chef Sebastien Bras  in the kitchen of his three-star restaurant Le Suquet, in Laguiole,  France. Photograph: Remy Gabaldaremy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images

French chef Sebastien Bras in the kitchen of his three-star restaurant Le Suquet, in Laguiole, France. Photograph: Remy Gabaldaremy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images

 

It’s a first. The prestigious Michelin guide has allowed a top French restaurant to drop out of its coveted guide after its chef said he didn’t want the “huge pressure” of being judged by its inspectors to maintain his restaurant’s three stars.

This is the first time Michelin has ever allowed a restaurant to withdraw from its pages.

The usual narrative is that chefs and restaurants are falling over themselves trying to get into the Michelin guide, or to up their star rating in the gastronomic bible. But after the pressure to achieve the rating, comes relentless pressure to maintain it.

One of France’s most celebrated chefs, Sebastien Bras (46), who runs Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole in south central France, about 200km northeast of Toulouse, caused shockwaves in the food world when he announced in September 2017 that he was relinquishing the restaurant’s three stars because of the huge pressure of being judged on every dish he serves.

Three-Michelin star restaurants are an elite club – there are just 27 in France with the maximum rating.

‘Spellbinding’ restaurant

Sebastien Bras and his father, Michel Bras, held three stars in the Michelin guide for almost 20 years and Le Suquet was consistently described by the Michelin judges as “spellbinding”. In the restaurant, diners look over sweeping views of the Aubrac plateau in the Aveyron while tasting local produce.

Although Michelin removes restaurants from its guide when a chef retires or the restaurant’s concept changes, it has never before removed a restaurant because its chef just doesn’t want to be included.

But that has changed with this move. “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. Le Suquet will not feature in the guide’s 2018 edition, which will be published next Monday, Clauzel confirmed.

Bras said in September that he could no longer put himself through the ordeal of knowing that one below-par dish in his restaurant in the rural Aveyron region could cost him his reputation.

He announced his decision in September 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, and “to offer a cuisine and service that represents that spirit and our land.”

He said he wanted to be dropped from the guide from 2018.

There was a lot of interest in his announcement, and he accepted he might be “less famous”, and talked about how he wanted to “start a new chapter” in the restaurant’s history “without wondering whether my creations will appeal to Michelin’s inspectors”.

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

Ultra-competitive world

Bras is not the first chef to walk away from the ultra-competitive world of Michelin-star cooking, but until now it has involved closing or changing a restaurant.

In 1999, Marco Pierre White, at that stage the youngest chef to earn three stars, renounced them and retired from his restaurant.

A handful of other 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, choosing to revamp the three-star Lucas Carton and saying he had enough of the agony of perfection. “I feel like having fun,” he told the New York Times. “I don’t want to feed my ego anymore. I am too old for that. I can do beautiful cuisine without all the tra-la-la and chichi, and put the money into what’s on the plate.”

The same year Alsace-based chef Philippe Gaertner gave back his stars and was reported as writing to Michelin to say that he was changing his menu and would no longer compete to keep the star status that had been in the family since the late 1930s.

Olivier Roellinger closed his luxury eatery in the Breton fishing village of Cancale in 2008, saying he wanted a quieter life. In 2017 acclaimed Danish chef Rene Redzepi closed his Noma restaurant, forfeiting its two stars, and planning to move it to another part of Copenhagen. He said it was “necessary to break down a castle in order to build a new one”.

But this is the first time, according to Michelin, that it’s agreeing to take its stars back.

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