When restaurants hand back their Michelin stars

10 February 2022 by

It's an honour that chefs across the globe work hard to achieve, but for some the burden of the Michelin star is too heavy. Here are the restaurants who handed their stars back and why they did it

When brothers André and Édouard Michelin created a guidebook for the motorists who purchased their tyres 123 years ago, they could never have imagined the controversy its publication would create more than a century later.

For many chefs, winning a star is still seen as the ultimate badge of honour, and a chance to join the ranks of the industry's most famous names. But not all agree, and over the years many have sought to have their restaurants removed from the red book. We look back at some of the most notorious cases where chefs and owners decided to hang up their jackets.

Louis Vaudable

One of the earliest cases of a restaurant returning its stars was the original Maxim's in Paris. Founded by former waiter Maxime Gaillard in 1893, by the mid-20th century it had become one of the most famous restaurants in the world and held the maximum three Michelin stars for years – until it disappeared completely from the 1978 guide.

Michelin announced that Maxim's was dropped at the request of owner, Louis Vaudable, who claimed the red book had refused his request to create a special category for the restaurant's "unique" atmosphere. However, there were rumours Maxim's was about to be demoted, and according to The New York Times, some industry experts saw its withdrawal as a tactic to save face.

Marco Pierre White

In 1994 Marco Pierre White became the youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars at the age of 32, but just five years later he retired and announced he was handing them back.

In the years since he has given numerous reasons for his decision. Speaking to The Caterer in 2007, White was scathing of the red book's inspectors: "I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittle myself."

A decade later, White was still dismissive of the guide. When he opened the English House hotel and restaurant in Singapore, the chef told Channel News Asia he declined to be included in its listings, "because I don't need Michelin and they don't need me. They sell tyres, I sell food".

Sébastien Bras

French chef Sébastien Bras learned the hard way that it was up to Michelin, not the chef, whether a restaurant was removed. Bras took over his father's three-star restaurant Le Suquet in the south of France in 2009, but in 2017 publicly asked to be removed from the guide, citing the "huge pressure" of knowing an inspector could appear at any time.

His request was initially granted and Le Suquet was left out of the 2018 Michelin Guide France, but the following year Bras was reportedly surprised to find it had returned with two stars. In an interview with Centre Presse Aveyron, Bras said he felt Michelin had sent a message that a restaurant had no choice but to live under pressure.

Marc Veyrat

In 2019 the knives came out in the world of French gastronomy when chef Marc Veyrat demanded his restaurant, La Maison des Bois in the French Alps, be withdrawn from the red book after being demoted to two stars.

He said the move left him depressed and denounced the "profound incompetence" of the guide's inspectors, who he claimed identified the wrong cheese in a soufflé. "They dared to say that we put Cheddar in our soufflé of Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme! They have insulted our region; my employees were furious," he said, according to Le Monde.

Veyrat later took Michelin to court to try to force the guide to share notes about its inspections of his restaurant, but lost the case.

There was no love lost on either side. Michelin's lawyer, Richard Malka, told AFP news agency that Veyrat was a "narcissistic diva" whose grievances were "imaginary and unfounded". La Maison des Bois still holds two stars in the Michelin Guide France, which states Veyrat is "as great a chef as ever".

Eo Yung-gwon

In 2019 Seoul chef Eo Yung-gwon announced he had lodged a criminal complaint against Michelin for including his restaurant in its ratings, despite him asking them not to.

In a post on his Facebook page, he accused the "corrupt book" of "defamation". Eo told CNN Michelin was a "cruel system" which "forces chefs to work around a year waiting for a test [and] they don't know when it's coming". Although experts said the chef's complaint was unlikely to stick, he did not back down from criticising the guide. "I will work hard to safeguard the integrity of our industry against garbage critics like Michelin or influencers or the media," he wrote on Facebook. "I will continue my campaign against Michelin." What does Michelin say?

Despite the turbulent history of star removal, Michelin states that stars are not forced on restaurants if the chef objects. According to an interview with an anonymous inspector posted on its website: "If a chef, for whatever reason, doesn't want his or her cooking highlighted, then we simply won't re-award the star the following year."

And, naming no names, the inspector said the idea of chefs ‘returning' stars by closing a restaurant was a "specious argument", adding: "It's like a theatre ‘giving back' a newspaper review when the play's run has ended."

Photo: Shutterstock

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