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France's Michelin, the go-to guide on fine dining

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Paris (AFP)

The Michelin Guide, which is for the first time being sued by a chef over an unfavourable review, is among the world's most influential references on gourmet dining.

Here is some background about the prestigious red guide.

- Born 120 years ago -

French tyre manufacturer Michelin brought out a travel guide in 1900 to encourage motorists to take to the road and so boost its business.

It included maps, a how-to on changing tyres and lists of mechanics and hotels along the route.

The first run of 35,000 copies was such a success that guides for Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Spain followed.

- Restaurants rated -

The guide included restaurant listings from 1920, when it started charging for the publication. It began sending out undercover inspectors, and from the early 1930s introduced its famous star ratings.

One star indicates "A very good restaurant in its category"; two stars is for "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"; and three rates "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey".

Of about 20,000 international restaurants listed, only around 130 have attained the highest distinction.

- Michelin goes global -

In 2005 the Michelin Guide branched out of Europe with a New York guide, followed in 2007 by editions for San Francisco then Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

It moved to Asia with a Tokyo version in 2008 when 90,000 copies, in English and Japanese, flew off the shelves in 48 hours.

Michelin published its first Shanghai guide in 2016 and today there are versions for several Asian cities, with Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo also covered.

Having long been criticised as biased towards formal dining, the guide in 2016 awarded a star to a Singapore street food outlet known for a braised chicken dish.

A famed Tokyo sushi restaurant, where Barack Obama is said to have enjoyed the best sushi of his life, was meanwhile dropped from the 2020 edition after it stopped accepting reservations from the general public.

- Too much pressure -

A handful of French restaurateurs have relinquished their Michelin status because of the stress of being judged by its inspectors.

In January 2019 three-starred French restaurant Le Suquet chose to withdraw from the guide after the chef said he no longer wanted to cook under the pressure.

The 2003 suicide of three-star chef Bernard Loiseau was linked, among other reasons, to hints that his restaurant was about to lose its three stars.

Star Swiss chef Benoit Violier took his life in 2016, a day ahead of the release of the Michelin Guide, although his restaurant maintains its three-star rating.

- In court -

In September 2019 French celebrity chef Marc Veyrat sued the guide after it stripped one of his restaurants of a third star and suggested -- wrongly, he insists -- that he had used cheddar cheese in a souffle.

It is the first time a chef has taken the guide to court.

With the case opening on November 27, Veyrat is demanding symbolic damages of one euro ($1.1) but Michelin is counter-suing for 30,000 euros in costs and compensation.

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