Michelin 2004 France guide fells stars
PARIS, Feb 5 (AFP) - Europe's food "bible", the Michelin guide, kept its reputation as a stern arbiter of gastronomy intact Thursday by releasing its 2004 ratings of French restaurants in which just three were elevated to three stars - and many were demoted.
The evaluations, given three weeks ahead of publication of the red guide, play a crucial part in the fortunes of the chefs who struggle to get into the book and rise in its ranks.
Three stars is a guarantee of wealthy French and foreigners lining up to dine in an anointed establishment, while the loss of even one star can spell financial or emotional ruin.
Thus last year’s edition caused a stir when a Burgundy chef, Bernard Loiseau of the La Cote d’Or restaurant in Saulieu, committed suicide soon after it came out, apparently out of fear of one day losing his three stars.
This year’s version maintains that eatery’s rating, which has since been run by Loiseau’s wife Dominique. Wednesday, she told AFP that “Bernard would be proud of us, we have faced our fate,” and expressed “great joy and sadness.”
Two Burgundy restaurants, l’Esperance at Saint-Pere-sous-Vezelay and la Cote Saint-Jacques at Joigny, and a third in southwest France, Les Loges de l’Aubergade at Puymirol, were brought into the three-star league.
For the Burgundy establishments, it was a vindication of efforts redoubled after losing the top rating a few years ago.
One restaurant fell from three stars to two – les Crayeres in Reims, whose chef, Gerard Boyer, recently retired.
The changes mean France and Monaco now count 27 three-star restaurants, 10 of which are in Paris.
Michelin said it gave out the pre-publication information “to cut short rumours” that had been driving chefs into high anxiety. It was the third year in a row it had done so.
The famous guide, which has been run by a 59-year-old Briton, Derek Brown, for the past three and a half years, relies on a team of undercover inspectors who go from restaurant to restaurant to appraise the quality of the food, the presentation and the service.
Several visits are conducted before a place is lifted into the rarified three-star level.
Brown has announced that he is to leave in the middle of this year, handing over the job to a Frenchman, Jean-Luc Naret, 42.
Born as a marketing idea by French tyre company Michelin to encourage motorists to drive around to restaurants and hotels, the Red Guide has been published annually since 1900. It started issuing its stars – properly known as macaroons – in 1926.
Some, notably gastronomy experts in the French press, have in the past criticised the guide’s influence, which they see as excessive and promoting a snobby food culture that is removed from how most people eat.
This year’s edition was particularly tough on restaurants which were already in the book and which aspired one day to climb up to the top category.
Just one establishment – the Hotel Meurice in Paris – was brought into the two-star league.
But another six went in the other direction, stripped of one of the symbols to join the worthy-but-not-brilliant one-star crowd.
All of them – the Chantecler, the Moulin de Mougins and the Reserve de Beaulieu, all on the Riviera, and Les Muses in Paris, Le Greuze in Tournus and Le Bretagne in Questembert – stumbled because of the departure of their chefs.
For La Bourride in Caen, the re-evaluation was even more brutal. It went from two stars to none, because its chef, Michel Bruneau, had left for the rival La Mere Poulard at Mont-Saint-Michel.
Tourists hoping to sample the fine dining listed in the Michelin guide without paying the top-notch euro prices demanded by the three-star circuit have several new restaurants basking in their first-ever star. Among them, in Paris, are: le Seize au Seize, le Vin sur Vin and Le Braisiere.
Subject: France news