Top French chef asks to return his three Michelin stars
Sebastien Bras, who runs Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole, cites enormous pressure
French chefs Michel Bras (right) and son Sebastien Bras at their restaurant Capucin in Toulouse. Sebastien, chef of three-star restaurant Le Suquet, asked to be allowed to continue his work with a free spirit. Photograph: Getty Images
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.
Sebastien 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 – has announced he wants 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 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: “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 added 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,” said Bras.
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.
Pressure to win and then maintain Michelin stars is also present for Irish chefs.
Kevin Thornton, whose restaurant Thornton's lost its Michelin star in 2015 and closed the following year, also found the pressure of the award to be immense, describing losing the award as being “like a stab in the heart”.
“You put your heart and soul into this every single day and when someone criticises you and says you are not good enough, it feels like you have failed,” he said.
Derry Clarke, whose restaurant L’Ecrivain in Dublin has held a Michelin star for 14 years, told The Irish Times in 2016 that chefs remain nervous before the announcement each year.
“Winning it initially is the best part of it. And then after that, you’re always, at the back of your mind, worried about losing it. People get jittery."
The chef said that he always has a plan of action if he was to lose the star. “I always have that there. I’d have to change the restaurant, change everything around. You wouldn’t have as many staff, simpler food, less courses, that kind of stuff.”
Danni Barry, who has won a Michelin star for two years in a row for her cooking at EIPIC in Belfast said of winning for the second time: “It was more nerve wracking. Last year, it was a surprise and I was just delighted and thrilled. The feeling was different this year – you have that pressure to retain it. It was more relief than anything.”
One Irish chef who moved away from the pressures of Michelin stars, Oliver Dunne, held a star for nine years for Bon Appetit, his restaurant in Malahide, Co Dublin. But he effectively ruled himself out of the running for a star in 2015 when he changed the style of his restaurant to a more casual eatery.
“I’m a bit apprehensive about it but only time will tell whether it was a wise decision for me on a personal level,” he said at the time.
However, in 2016 he told The Irish Times he was sure he’d made the right decision. “Business is brilliant. 2015 was our best year ever in Bon Appetit... Most people don’t know anything about Michelin stars. Not a single customer ever mentioned to me about us not having a Michelin star. From the time I first won the star, nothing mattered more, and I mean absolutely nothing. And now, 10 years later, I look back in amazement. It is now so irrelevant and unimportant to me. It’s like two different people, like I don’t know who that Oliver Dunne was.”
– (Guardian service. Additional reporting by The Irish Times)