French chef loses ‘Cheddar-gate’ lawsuit over Michelin star demotion

French chef Marc Veyrat holds a Michelin guide after being awarded the maximum three stars in February 2018.
French chef Marc Veyrat holds a Michelin guide after being awarded the maximum three stars in February 2018. Jacques Demarthon, AFP file picture

A French court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit brought by star chef Marc Veyrat seeking to force the prestigious Michelin restaurant guide to hand over its reasons for stripping his restaurant of a third star just a year after he won it.


In its verdict, the court in Nanterre, outside Paris, said Marc Veyrat had offered no "proof showing the existence of any damage" caused by the Michelin guide's demotion of his prestigious restaurant, Maison des Bois, in the Alps to a two-star rating in January 2019.

The shock demotion came just 12 months after Veyrat's remarkable comeback after years of personal struggles, with the furious showman chef accusing the Michelin inspectors of making a "mistake".

He wanted the court to force Michelin to hand over its judging notes -- a ruling that could have upended the world of fine dining by opening the door to lawsuits from other disgruntled chefs.

A saffron – not English Cheddar – yellow  

The case, which came to be called “Cheddar-gate” in France, was sparked when the celebrity chef discovered at the start of this year that he had lost one of his three stars – the maximum number of stars that can be awarded – when the 110th edition of the respected guide was published at the start of this year.

Veyrat claimed 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 earlier this year.

No proof of losses, says court

Veyrat, 69, had sought a symbolic one euro in damages, not least over his claimed depression after losing the star, but the court said he had not provided any documented proof of his losses.

The showman chef, known as much for his ubiquitous black Savoyard hat as his "botanical" creations from local herbs and produce, had already said he had no need of any Michelin accolades.

"I really don't need them," Veyrat told AFP shortly before the ruling, saying business was up seven percent over the past year.

"Even between Christmas and New Year's Day, we're fully booked. We've never been this busy," he added.
"At this rate, I wish they'd take away all my stars!"

Michelin lawyers slam ‘narcissistic diva’

Veyrat's stunning return to the world's restaurant firmament in January 18 was hard won, coming nine years after he was forced to stop cooking because of a skiing accident, and three years after his restaurant was destroyed in a fire.

After his demotion, he demanded a meeting with Michelin's international director Gwendal Poullennec, who had been named just a few months before the 2019 listings.

The chef said he was told a scallop's texture was "cottony" -- Veyrat says it was in fact a dish of local fish -- and accused of using English Cheddar cheese in a soufflé.

"I have a lot of respect for Michelin in France... but they made a mistake in my case, and they need to recognise it," Veyrat told AFP.

Michelin's lawyers denounced the lawsuit as an abuse of the legal system by a "narcissistic diva" and demanded €30,000 (nearly $34,000) in damages and compensation.

"It's a question of respecting the freedom of criticism and opinion in our country," Michelin's lawyer Richard Malka told AFP last week.

That claim was rejected by Veyrat's lawyer Emmanuel Ravanas, who said the chef has long since grown accustomed to being judged severely over his pricey creations.

"We're not here to forbid criticism, we want to check that criteria exist and that they have been applied correctly," he told the court.

"You don't have the right to write whatever you want using the excuse of freedom of expression," he said.
The self-taught Veyrat has spent most of his life cooking in his home village of Manigod, 1,600 metres (5,200 feet) up the Alps near Annecy.

Just days before the November hearing, Veyrat was named one of the 10 immortals of haute cuisine by the rival French Gault & Millau guide, alongside legends like Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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