French chef Veyrat seals comeback with third Michelin star
By: Anne-Laure MONDESERT / Fiachra GIBBONS
Marc Veyrat, the comeback king of French cuisine, was back at the top of the culinary pecking order Monday after the Michelin guide awarded him the maximum three stars.
The flamboyant chef, who is rarely seen without his black Savoyard hat, has now won the top rating for three different restaurants over the course of his career.
Nine years after Veyrat was forced to give up cooking after a serious skiing accident and three after his alpine restaurant La Maison des Bois burned down, the 67-year-old was back at the summit of French cooking.
As his three stars were announced at a Paris theatre, Veyrat told AFP that “you have to hit rock bottom to realise how good things can be,” adding that he felt “like an orphan for the period when I wasn’t in the Michelin guide.”
Famed for his highly inventive creations that mix delicate infusions of wild herbs with hearty traditional Savoyard cooking, Veyrat is one of only two chefs promoted this year to the elite club who hold three stars, the Michelin guide said.
A self-taught master who has spent most of his life cooking in his home village of Manigod 1,600 metres (5,200 feet) up the Alps near Annecy, he has twice been given the maximum 20 out of 20 score by the rival Gault-Millau guide.
Addressing the celebrated chefs, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe hailed them as ambassadors who “contribute to the influence of French culture”.
– Rise of the Japanese –
The guide’s international director Michael Ellis also cheered the continued rise of Japanese chefs in France with two new two-starred restaurants, Takao Takano’s eatery in Lyon and Masafumi Hamano’s Au 14 Fevrier at nearby Saint-Amour-Bellevue in the Saone-et-Loire region of eastern France.
Three other Japanese chefs got a single star for the first time.
“Japanese chefs have great technical skills and their cooking can be extremely precise,” Ellis said.
“France and Japan are quite similar,” said Naito as he celebrated his win. “France is presented to us as the number one in world gastronomy and for me Japan is number two. We both love good ingredients.”
Veyrat’s organic alpine vegetable gardens around his rebuilt restaurant make it almost self-sufficient. He has also pioneered the use of wild mountain herbs in broths and fermentations, and cites the botanist Francois Couplan among his heroes.
Ellis said Veyrat has earned himself “an important place in culinary history. It is very difficult to make characterful food with herbs, flowers and plants, but he does it,” he told AFP, picking out a dish of egg, hay and wood sorrel served with ravioli of “forgotten vegetables” as particularly brilliant.
Renowned fish cook Christophe Bacquie of the Castellet Hotel in the Var region of southeast France was also awarded a third star for the first time.
– Perfumed cream of kaffir lime –
The 45-year-old is best known for his Mediterranean-influenced recipes, including John Dory, crab and caviar served in a perfumed cream of kaffir lime.
Only a tiny club of 28 chefs hold three stars from the Michelin guide, the bible of French gastronomy.
Last week for the first time the Michelin allowed a top French restaurant to bow out of its listings after its chef told AFP he no longer wanted to work under the “huge pressure” of being judged by its undercover inspectors.
Sebastien Bras’ Le Suquet restaurant in the rural Aveyron region had held the maximum three-star rating for 18 years.
Bras confessed that like “all chefs” he sometimes found himself thinking of fellow Frenchman Bernard Loiseau — who committed suicide in 2003, an act widely seen as linked to rumours that he was about to lose his third Michelin star.
This year the guide is launching a mentoring scheme led by Anne-Sophie Pic, the only woman with three stars in France, to help chefs cope with the pressure that Michelin recognition brings.
“It is a great boost to get a star,” Pic told AFP, “but there is also extra pressure as well as the fear of losing it. It can be a steamroller. With more and more people wanting to book a table at your restaurant, their expectations also rise.”
Canadian Noam Gedalof was among the intake of foreign-born chefs, getting a single star for his restaurant Comice in the French capital, while the Dane Andreas Moller of Copenhagen, Lebanese chef Alan Geaam and the Cypriot Andreas Mavrommatis were also similarly rewarded for their Parisian establishments.
The full Michelin guide for France, whose ratings are based on two or three visits by unannounced inspectors, will be published on Friday.