Champagne chef wins coveted three Michelin stars
A chef from France's Champagne region whose restaurant offers 600 of the sparkling wines was admitted Monday into the exclusive club of establishments with three Michelin stars.
Arnaud Lallement, of the family-run L'Assiette Champenoise near Reims -- where house specialities include roasted Brittany langoustines -- received a standing ovation from his fellow three-star chefs at a ceremony in Paris.
The chef was the only new addition to the top ranking in this year's France Michelin Guide, gastronomy's bible and restaurant-reviewing institution, which praised Lallement for his use of "ingredients of exceptional quality" and "recipes full of character".
Lallement, 39, told AFP that his first reaction on hearing he had been awarded a third star was to think of his father, Jean-Pierre, who died at the age of 50 in 2002.
His father opened a restaurant near Reims in the Champagne heartland of northeastern France in 1975 before moving in 1987 to the table now run by his son at Tinqueux, also near Reims.
Lallement trained under his father before going to work with chefs Roger Verge, Michel Guerard and Alain Chapel, rejoining his father in 1997.
Today, the restaurant is still very much a family affair with his wife working in the eatery and his mother and sister in a hotel that is also part of the family business.
And in a tribute to his father, blue lobster is never off the menu. The dish was one of his father's signatures and Lallement likes to reinterpret it regularly.
Michael Ellis, director of international guides for Michelin, said this year's selection was also notable for the number of young chefs included.
In the one-star category, young chefs were particularly well represented with seven under the age of 30 alone, he said.
Ellis attributed the increase in younger chefs to more opportunities for them to set up on their own without taking huge financial risks.
"Young chefs now are able to find smaller structures, they are able to go out and find a place that might have 20 or 25 covers," he said.
"They are able to get started with just maybe one other person and to progress themselves and their cuisine very rapidly and gain a following."
- 'Great dynamic' -
Ellis said smaller restaurants also represented a way of eating that particularly appealed to young people and that the trend was pushing standards up.
"It's bringing the level of food up generally," he said.
"There are people out there who want to eat well and these young chefs generally speaking have very good value for money.
"So it's creating a great dynamic on the gastronomic scene because it's giving people a chance to go out and eat well for not a lot of money," he said.
The world's best-known food guide, Michelin has also been dogged by controversy with critics acusing it of promoting overly-complex, labour-intensive cuisine that is unsustainable for many restaurants, and costly for diners.
It has also been accused of favouring big-name chefs like Alain Ducasse or Joel Robuchon, whose global restaurant empires have notched up stars across Michelin's different editions.
Michelin's France 2014 edition lists just 27 establishments with three stars, 10 of which are in Paris.
Some 79 restaurants have two stars, including six new ones, and 504 have one star, 57 of which are new.
According to Michelin, restaurants are selected on four criteria, namely "the quality of the produce, the expertise of the chef, the originality of the dishes and consistency throughout the meal and across the seasons".
Of those included in the guide, 115 starred restaurants could offer a meal for 30 euros ($41) or less, it said.
© 2014 AFP