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Cheddar-gate: French chef sues Michelin Guide, claiming he lost a star for using cheddar

Jacques Demarthon, AFP file picture | French chef Marc Veyrat, holds a Michelin guide after being awarded the maximum three Michelin stars at a ceremony on the outskirts of Paris on February 5, 2018

A French chef is suing the Michelin Guide – the standard bearer for haute cuisine – after having lost one of his three coveted stars without explanation, his lawyer said Tuesday, aside from having been accused of using cheddar in a cheese soufflé.

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Marc Veyrat, who runs the prestigious “La Maison des Bois” restaurant in Haute-Savoie in the French Alps, only discovered he had lost one of his three stars – the maximum number of stars that can be awarded, and which Veyrat had earned a year earlier – when the 110th edition of the respected guide was published at the start of this year.

Veyrat claims the downgrade came after a Michelin inspector mistakenly thought he had adulterated a cheese soufflé with English Cheddar instead of using France's Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme varieties.

"I put saffron in it, and the gentleman who came thought it was cheddar because it was yellow. That's what you call knowledge of a place? It's just crazy," Veyrat told France Inter radio.

The chef learned of the downgrade “without any notification or advance warning”, according to his legal counsel, Emmanuel Ravanas, who issued a press release to French media on Monday. 

"For decades, Marc Veyrat has been accustomed to his cuisine being graded, evaluated and compared, and he is well aware of the fact that a star is not earned for life," Ravanas said, adding: "He can take criticism, provided that the criticism is accurate." 

The lawyer added that Veyrat had amicably sought a detailed explanation behind the decision, “which has affected him both personally and professionally”, but had only been met with vague reponses, including an accusation that he had served cheddar cheese.

“Since the start of his career, he is passionate about working with Savoyard products,” the lawyer said of Veyrat’s cooking.

After learning of his downgrade, Veyrat demanded his restaurant be withdrawn from the Michelin Guide's restaurant listings, but his lawyer said this demand had not yet been fulfilled.

In an interview with France Info, the chef said he had been “dishonoured by the Michelin guide decision”.

“It’s worse than a wound. It’s profoundly offensive. It gave me a depression. I saw my team cry. For me, this is irreparable,” he said, noting that he would like the Michelin Guide to explain its reasoning behind the downgrade in more detail and provide documented proof on what led to the decision.

Trademark Savoyard hat

Veyrat, 69, made his name with his so-called "botanical" cooking, employing the wild herbs gathered around his restaurants in his native Haute Savoie region.

His award of a third star for La Maison du Bois in 2018 capped a comeback after he was forced to give up cooking a decade ago after a serious skiing accident.

He had previously won three stars for two other restaurants.

The chef, who is instantly recognisable in France for his signature wide-brimmed black Savoyard hat and smoke-tinted glasses, tried to get Michelin to hand over the inspector notes or the bills proving they had indeed dined at his establishment.

He also claimed that a new generation of editors at the head of the guide were trying to make their names by attacking the pillars of French cuisine.

In a written response to AFP, the Michelin Guide said Veyrat was demanding information to help him back up his claim. "This path underscores the fact that he did not possess any elements at the time of his accusation, and still does not possess such elements to this day,” it said.

Michelin went on to say that while "no one is questioning his talent", the guide's "primary task is to inform consumers".

"We will carefully study his demands and answer them in a calm manner,” Michelin said.

The case will be taken up in a Nanterre court on the western outskirts of Paris on November 27.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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