The Michelin stars of 2003
The 2003 edition of the legendary Michelin Red Guide for France has announced its coveted restaurant awards — and demotions. But some claim the stars in toques are all tosh. Hugh Schofield reports.
Weeks of anxious nail-biting by France's gastronomic elite came to an end February 7, when the Michelin Red Guide released its ratings for 2003, elevating two restaurants based in luxury hotels in Paris and Monaco to the ultimate three-star accolade.
The Louis XV, run by the internationally-renowned Alain Ducasse at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, regains the third star which it lost in 2001, and Le Cinq restaurant at the George V hotel off the Champs-Elysees in Paris continues the ascent which it began with a first star in 2000.
The Red Guide 2003 is released for publication on February 28, but for the second year editor Derek Brown announced the much-coveted distinctions in advance to cut short rumours.
Philippe Legendre, the 44-year-old chef who took over at the Saudi-owned George V hotel after it was totally renovated in 1999, said he was delighted on behalf of his entire staff of 80 cooks. "A third star - that's the consecration of a team," he said.
Ducasse, 46, who also manages the three-starred restaurant at the Plaza-Athenee hotel in Paris as well as Essex House in New York, becomes only the second French chef to currently total six stars. The other is Marc Veyrat, whose two restaurants in the Alps are however open at different times of year.
The Louis XV, where Ducasse developed his trademark Mediterranean-style cuisine, has won and lost a third star twice before in the last 12 years, and the restaurateur said it was "the most beautiful of my three machines ... It is my hot-house."
With no demotions from the top category, the changes mean France now has 25 three-star restaurants: 10 in Paris, one in Monaco and 14 in the regions.
In the new listings three restaurants are raised from one to two stars. They include Hélène Darroze in the capital's Latin Quarter, owned by the 35 year-old Ducasse-protegée of the same name who specialises in the cooking traditions of southwest France.
Three restaurants —- including the Ambassadeurs, at the Hotel Crillon, on the Place de la Concorde in Paris — go down from two to one star. And two establishments — including the dining-room at the capital's Astor hotel run by top chef Joël Rebuchon — lose both their stars.
Rebuchon said he was not surprised by the loss because he is leaving the restaurant in July. "It's normal that when the chef of a starred restaurant leaves, the stars go too," he said.
Michelin's Red Guide has been published annually since 1900, issuing its first stars in 1926, and its influence means that the fortunes of a top-class restaurant can be changed overnight by the attribution or the withdrawal of a star.
But a growing number of critics say its power is excessive and that it encourages an artifical and rarefied food culture that is far removed from how most French people choose to eat.
"In this plodding new edition, which is gradually separating itself from gastronomic reality, Michelin follows the marketing men. A chef appears less for his intrinsic value than for the effect he will have on the notoriety of the guide," wrote François Simon, food critic of the newspaper Le Figaro.
"High gastronomy is enclosed in a kind of ossified, museum-like world. The only people who go to these restaurants are the very old, the bizarrely rich or people on expense accounts," Simon said in an interview.
But Brown rebutted the charges, saying that love of haute cuisine extends throughout French society.
"Three-star restaurants are not just reserved for the rich elite. They're full of people who love food of the best quality and save up their money for a special occasion. I should know. I eat in these places all the time," he said.