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Michelin strips star from French culinary beacon Bocuse

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Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or (France) (AFP)

Almost exactly two years after the death of the renowned French chef Paul Bocuse, the Michelin Guide has retracted the coveted three-star ranking his restaurant held for an unprecedented 55 years, prompting anger and dismay from many of his peers.

The Auberge du Pont de Collonges, near food-obsessed Lyon in southeast France, is the only French restaurant ever to hold the maximum three stars, awarded in 1965, for more than four decades.

The Michelin Guide told AFP on Friday that the establishment "remained excellent but no longer at the level of three stars" and will have only two in the 2020 edition of the famous red book -- known as the "Bible" of French cuisine.

The Bocuse d'Or organisation, which holds the annual international cooking competition he created, greeted the announcement with "sadness" and expressed its "unwavering support" for the restaurant.

Bocuse's family and his kitchen team said they were "upset" by the decision, and celebrity chef Marc Veyrat, who recently sued the Michelin Guide over a lost third star, described the move as "pathetic".

"Monsieur Paul", as Bocuse was known, died aged 91 on January 20, 2018, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Dubbed the "pope" of French cuisine, he was one of the country's most celebrated of all time, helping shake up the food world in the 1970s with the lighter fare of the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution, and helping to introduce the notion of a celebrity chef.

Michelin boss Gwendal Poullennec visited Bocuse's restaurant on Thursday to deliver the news, guide spokeswoman Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin told AFP.

Even before Bocuse's death, some critics had commented that the restaurant was no longer quite up to scratch.

But Michelin's decision, a year after stripping Veyrat of his third star just a year after awarding it, immediately stirred controversy.

- 'Irreparable' -

While food critic Perico Legasse told BFM television the guide had committed an "irreparable" error in a quest for media attention, Veyrat said he had "lost faith" in a new generation of Michelin editors he accused of trying to make a name for themselves by taking down the giants of French cuisine.

"I am sad for the team that took up the torch at Collonges," tweeted the three-starred chef Georges Blanc.

The restaurant has been modernising its look and its menu, pursuing a philosophy its management team describes as "tradition in motion".

"The chefs have reworked the dishes. They have been refining them for more than a year, evolving them while retaining their original DNA and taste," the restaurant's manager Vincent Le Roux told a regional newspaper recently.

The restaurant is scheduled to reopen on January 24 after three weeks of renovations -- three days before the official launch of the latest Michelin Guide.

Bocuse described himself as a devotee of traditional cuisine. "I love butter, cream, wine" he once said, "not peas cut into quarters".

According to Michelin, restaurants are selected on four criteria: the quality of the products, the expertise of the chef, the originality of the dishes and consistency throughout the meal and across seasons.

But critics say the costs of ensuring such standards have made Michelin stars an untenable proposition as more diners baulk at spending massively on a meal.

A handful of French restaurateurs have in recent years relinquished their prized three-star status because of the stress of being judged by Michelin inspectors.

In 2018, the guide allowed, for the first time, a restaurant to withdraw from its listings after Sebastien Bras, the chef at Le Suquet, said he no longer wished to cook under that type of pressure.

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

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