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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Michelin France 2006: 'The Red' is done!

Guidemichelin2006_1Last Friday, Libération, the Paris paper, published a scoop on the new Michelin guide for France 2006. The biggest news, perhaps, is the awarding of the –long awaited and highly deserved- third star to Oliver Roellinger in Brittany. Shall I just say I told you so?

Frankly I am not sure what has taken Michelin all this time, Roellinger has long been acknowledged by his peers –the likes of Troisgros and Gagnaire with plenty of stars to their names- to have earned his proper place amongst the best of them. But then again, Michelin appears to have a lot of catching up to do.

That's probably why I wasn't particularly surprised to see that Yannick Alléno did not get his third star, despite the fact that Le Meurice has consistently been performing at the three-star level. I'm not even the only one believing so, Vincent Noce who wrote the Libération scoop said as much himself.

While snubbing the new generation, such as Alléno, Piège, and Frechon (who is not my favorite), Michelin seems to have changed its mind on the issue of chefs with multiple restaurants. Gone are the days that Alain Ducasse had one star taken away from a restaurant merely because he opened another that also received three stars -legend has it that back then Michelin didn't believe a chef could consistently support two three-star establishments. Michelin of today, however, appears to be on the side of the empire-building chefs. Joël Robuchon has gotten four stars altogether from his growing fiefdom that stretches from Paris to Monaco (Michelin doesn’t rate the one in Vegas). Pierre Gagnaire took over Gaya since la rentrèe last year and promptly receives one star on this guide just a few months later. On the strength of the signature bearing the name of Alain Ducasse on the purchase contract alone, Benoît gets to keep its long-endangered star, even if the ink has barely dried and Ducasse hasn't even taken over the operation yet. Change is the only constant in life, I suppose.

Alain Sanderens who last year famously denounced all his Michelin stars and revamped his Lucas Carton into a luxe brasserie, retains two of his stars despite all the brouhahas surrounding the transformation –or downgrading, depending on your point of view- of his restaurant. Even Robuchon who was quoted multiple times in print that he didn't care if Michelin even looked at his Atelier, got one for that, and two for La Table, and yet another one for his eponymous place in Monte Carlo. Perhaps it's a case of she doth protest too much. You think?

I must say I do mourn the passing of the giant that was Lucas Carton. The change at what is now known simply as Alain Senderens, to me, translates to bad lighting, harried service, oddly composed menu, and over-priced wine list (admittedly with some superb bottles that are likely holdovers from the LC days). The only thing that was on my mind as I left my meal there in October was how I missed Lucas Carton. Oh, yes, and also how the check really wasn't all that cheaper, certainly not on the price/value rapport.

All joking and snarkiness aside, Michelin has, as usual, brought a number of previously unknown places to my attention. One interesting one that's certainly worthy of a look-in is young Jean Sulpice of L'Oxalys in Val-Thorens, who is all of 27 and has just received his very first star on this guide. Both a deciple of Marc Veyrat –yes he of the hat- and dutiful pilgrim to Cala Montjoy, it is quite a wonder he still reportedly knows his fond from his face, and keeps on his menu not only air but the old school gélée and mousse. Time to pack up my skis and go check him out.

The official 2006 Guide Rouge will be on the market March 1st.

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