The standoff between Marc Veyrat and the famous guide is about power and who has the last word, says food writer Dale Berning Sawa
Marc Veyrat, a French chef and Bob Dylan lookalike (hes as famous for his Michelin-starred cooking as he is for his wide-rimmed black hat), has been in the news this week. Or rather, to do him justice, hes gone full-tilt Gordon Ramsay in the news this week.
In January, the Michelin Guide demoted his Haute-Savoie restaurant, La Maison des Bois in Manigod. He became, as he put it, the only chef in history to get a third star one year and lose it the very next. And the six months since have been a living hell. A few weeks ago, he texted texted! the French weekly Le Point, saying: Hello, call me back please, its urgent. And when they did, he proceeded to relay, in great, indeed in operatic detail, quite how awful the fallout has been.
He has been depressed, he has had dark thoughts. He hasnt been able to sleep or feed himself. He has cried as if his parents had passed away all over again. He has envisaged the very worst.
The worst, of course, to his mind, had already happened. The Michelin, he said, would never be able to atone for this terrible injury. When he travelled to Paris to ask Michelin for an explanation, he says the only reasons he got for this destarring were that hed used a piece of cheddar in one of his dishes and that his scallops were a bit mealy.
This is where the souffl deflates. Mealy? You can feel him fuming. It is impossible that my scallops be mealy. I cook them in the shell of a passion fruit, he told Le Point. And that cheddar? That was actually a highly technical bit of culinary nous, using beaufort, a firm raw-cows-milk Alpine cheese. How can anyone with so much power be so incompetent? he wanted to know.
Its a rant that neatly brings to mind Kevin McCallisters sister in Home Alone saying, Youre what the French call les incomptents, when the kid doesnt know how to pack a suitcase. And just as that scene was all about tantrums and bullies, of course that is all this is about, too. Not food. Power. The power of the toque blanche, that puffy white chefs hat that signals quasi-cartoon-like authority in the militarily minded ranks of the worlds professional kitchens, one that will not stand to be disputed. And the power of the omniscient, omnipresent Michelin inspectors, arriving unannounced and in disguise, and doing as they please with your worldwide reputation.
Veyrat has decided that if he cant have three stars, he doesnt want any. No one takes Marc Veyrats third star away, he said, channelling Dirty Dancing. He is accusing the guide of sensationalism. Its not selling enough in print, and a public feud with Veyrat (yes, he twice referred to himself in the third person) has legs.
But the Michelin doesnt do returns. Though many from a street vendor in Bangkok to Marco Pierre White in 1999 have tried to give back their stars, to actually lose your position in the guide you either have to rename your place, radically rework your menu, or close up shop (which is what White ended up doing, and, boy. was he a model of equanimity and self-restraint). The only time, to my knowledge, that the guide has agreed to a chefs request was last year when an altogether humbler Sbastien Bras of Le Suquet in Laguiole cited immense pressure and stress as reasons for wanting to relinquish the three-star status he and his father had maintained since the late 1990s. And even then, it didnt last. Le Suquet is back in the red books pages this year. No respect, declared Le Figaro but Bras appears nonplussed. In January, he said nothing on his side had changed, but he was no longer that bothered either by the stars or by the guides strategies.
Stars are a lot like likes. One Spanish chef said he didnt want one any more because of how they go to your head. Get one and youre pissed off when you dont get another. There is a difference in that you can choose to be on social media, but as a chef, youve no say in whether youre in the Michelin or not.
You absolutely can choose to care, though. And increasingly a certain kind of chef and many a wised-up punter, too simply doesnt. We dont wanna win a Michelin star, said Magnus Reid, of now-defunct east London restaurant Legs a few years back. We just want people to have a cool time. Eater, the news website, refers to Michelin as the tyre company. Which it is, quite literally. But in the same way that referring to Nobel as an explosives merchant (again, true albeit reductive) might, that descriptor attempts to knock the fabled taste-maker down a peg or two. To put it as Stormzy might, theyre all getting way too big for their boots.
Dale Berning Sawa is a writer covering culture, food, health, tech and work
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