How Michelin told chefs Savoy and Coutanceau they had lost stars


Two of the world’s most famous chefs were on the verge of losing one Michelin star — the most coveted recognition of their profession. The restaurants of Christopher Coutanceau and Guy Savoy are reportedly downgraded from three stars to two in the next French edition of the Michelin guide – a downgrade that can tarnish chefs’ reputations and hurt their business.

So Gwendal Poullennec, the guide’s international director, hopped in his car and drove five hours from Paris to La Rochelle, the southwestern town where Coutanceau’s eponymous restaurant is located, spending “however long leader to listen and understand”. decision, a spokesperson said. Poullennec also had “a private interview” with Savoy, whose restaurant is inside the historic Monnaie de Paris building in the French capital.

It’s a practice that’s becoming more common amid growing awareness of the mental health issues chefs can face when navigating the pressure cooker that is the top restaurant industry. of range.

The organization is “in the process” of contacting the other two dozen chefs who are set to lose a star in the Michelin Guide France 2023. The full ranking will be revealed on Monday at an event in northeastern France.

“We are fully aware of the impact of our decisions for the restaurants affected,” the group said.

Achieving three Michelin stars is a lifelong quest for many high-end chefs, but the race to achieve and then maintain that distinction is notoriously stressful. In France, the suicide deaths of two Michelin-starred chefs over the past two decades are often cited as cautionary tales.

After ‘scoring 3 stars for being the best of the best’, losing a star ‘would feel like someone ripped your heart out’, said Samuel Squires, chef at the Old Crown Coaching Inn in Oxfordshire, England. , through WhatsApp. “The public and media attention and your doubts about whether I’m good enough will all come to play,” he said.

Dayan, an Australia-based chef who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by first name when discussing sensitive topics, agreed that chefs’ reputations are linked to their work – qu whether it’s a star or a critic.

“Although I didn’t lose a star, I had a reviewer criticize me in a national newspaper. It was horrible, the torment I felt and the pain it caused me” , he said via email.After the negative review was published, Dayan said he attempted suicide.

While the “pain eventually subsided,” Dayan said, his workplace was unable to accept that the negative review “actually had very little business impact.” This awareness “has informed how I deal with criticism from guests, staff and stakeholders,” he said.

After two Michelin-star chefs – Benoit Violier and Bernard Loiseau – died by suicide in 2016 and 2003, respectively, those who knew them speculated that the pressure to maintain their rankings may have played a part in the tragedies. Their deaths helped spark a conversation about the pressures of work.

“It’s lonely being a chef,” said Kris Hall, founder of the Burnt Chef Project, a mental health advocacy campaign in the hospitality industry.

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The job may involve working up to 12 hours a day in some restaurants, with little time for rest or a personal life. “It has a huge impact not only on your mental state, but also on your physical state,” said Hall, who worked for years as an ingredient supplier for food establishments in England before founding the group.

“Leaders are stoic and strong individuals. They’re also supposed to be very resilient, which means we’ve kind of been trained… not to show any signs of ‘weakness,’” Hall said. This prevents many chiefs from asking for help in times of crisis, he adds. “You will hear stories…of people who have cut or burned themselves quite badly, and they will continue throughout the service in order to get the job done.”

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Chefs sometimes put “a lot of pressure on their shoulders and on the shoulders of their teams because they want to maintain a certain level of performance”, acknowledged the spokesperson for the Michelin guide, speaking on condition of anonymity for frankly discuss company policies. That’s part of the reason Poullennec, after taking over the organization in 2018, began systematically reaching out to chefs who were losing stars, the spokesperson said. “Before him, there were a few calls, but not everyone” received one, added the spokesperson.

Michelin is reaching out long before the announcement is made publicly, at a time when chefs aren’t working – so they don’t have to return to their kitchens and confront customers immediately after finding out. “It’s really important for us to take the time to do it right,” the spokesperson said.

Although Michelin has not developed formal guidelines for the practice, the organization says it is committed to it for the long term. “We don’t want to ride a trend [of mental health]”, said the spokesperson. The group prefers to say that it is “evolving” towards a more “transparent” mode of operation. “We remain independent, and that is our strength, so we will not compromise there. on it, but we can also take the time to explain our decisions,” they added.

The evolution of Michelin’s approach to managing the expectations of Michelin-starred chefs comes at a particularly difficult time for workers and the hospitality industry. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many restaurants to close and created shortages of trained cooks and servers. Fine-dining restaurants have not been spared: Noma in Copenhagen, which has won three Michelin stars and been named “best restaurant in the world”, announced its closure this year, citing an “unsustainable” business model.

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The Michelin guide is also under pressure to prove that it is still relevant in a time when restaurant recommendations are readily available on TikTok and Yelp. And it has come under fire from chefs, some of whom say the process of awarding and removing stars is opaque, and others who say the pressure to keep stars stifles creativity.

Sébastien Bras, a chef who had a Michelin star, in 2017 asked the organization to win it so he could experiment “without wondering whether or not my creations will please the Michelin inspectors”.

When Bras explained his unusual request in an interview with Agence France-Presse at the time, he said he had in mind – like “everyone, restaurateurs and guides” – the memory of Loiseau’s death. .

“Maybe I will lose notoriety but I accept it,” Bras told AFP. “I will be able to feel free.”

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