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French chef cheesed off after losing Michelin star in Cheddar row

Odile Duperry with Fiachra Gibbons in Paris

Agence France-Presse

Annecy, France   /  Sat, July 13, 2019  /  03:06 pm
French chef cheesed off after losing Michelin star in Cheddar row

French chef Marc Veyrat holds a Michelin guide after being awarded the maximum three Michelin stars, during the Michelin guide award ceremony at La Seine Musicale in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, France, on February 5, 2018. (AFP/Jacques Demarthon)

Flamboyant French chef Marc Veyrat has railed against Michelin, demanding that his top restaurant be withdrawn from the guide, after telling AFP that its inspectors claimed he had used English Cheddar cheese in his souffle.

Veyrat's La Maison des Bois restaurant in the French Alps was downgraded to two stars from the maximum three in January and he said the loss had plunged him into a six-month-long depression.

"How dare you take your chefs' health hostage?" he seethed in a blistering letter to the guide, regarded as the bible of haute cuisine.

Veyrat, 69, took particular umbrage at inspectors "daring to say that I put Cheddar in our souffle of (local) Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme (cheeses).

"They have insulted my region," he told AFP on Wednesday. "My employees were furious.

"We only use the eggs from our own hens, the milk is from our own cows and we have two botanists out every morning collecting herbs," the horrified chef declared.

Veyrat, who made his name with his so-called "botanical" cooking, using wild herbs gathered around his restaurants in his native Haute Savoie region, denounced the "profound incompetence" of the guide's famously rigorous inspectors.

"You are impostors," he fumed, "who only want (to stir up) clashes for your own commercial reasons."

"We are pulling our restaurant out of the Michelin," he said.

But the iconic red guide said Thursday that it would not withdraw its listing, despite Veyrat travelling to the French capital to confront its editors face to face.

Read also: Historic French restaurant among shock losers in 2019 Michelin Guide

'I felt like an orphan'

"Michelin guide inspectors visit restaurants across the world anonymously. They pay their bills like every other customer," said its new director Gwendal Poullennec, who disputed a claim by Veyrat that the inspectors may not have eaten at his table.

The chef, who is instantly recognizable in France for his signature wide-brimmed black Savoyard hat, had also claimed that a new generation at the head of the guide were trying to make their names by attacking the pillars of French cuisine.

Veyrat -- who won back the top rating only last year -- was forced to give up cooking a decade ago after a serious skiing accident.

Then La Maison des Bois was ravaged by fire four years ago as he tried to make a comeback.

But in 2018 he finally landed the coveted third star, the summit of culinary achievement, for the alpine establishment, declaring that he had felt "like an orphan when I wasn't in the Michelin".

He had previously won three stars for two other restaurants.

Read also: French chef first woman to earn three Michelin stars in US

Chef suicides

Several top chefs have taken their own lives in recent years, highlighting the intense pressure they work under.

French chef Bernard Loiseau shot himself in 2003 after a newspaper hinted that his restaurant was about to lose its three-star status.

And Benoit Violier ended his life in 2016 only months after his Swiss restaurant was named as the best in the world by the French La Liste ranking.

His death prompted much soul-searching and the launching of a US chatroom for cooks called Chefs With Issues.

One of America's most famous celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain, hung himself last year on a visit to France. 

He was found by his friend, French chef Eric Ripert, whose New York restaurant, Le Bernardin, topped the La Liste ranking this year.

The self-taught Veyrat has spent most of his life cooking in his home village of Manigod 1,600 metres up the Alps near Annecy. He has been twice given the maximum 20 out of 20 score by the rival Gault Millau guide.

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