French chef Sebastien Bras Image Credit: AFP

Paris: A French chef who had shocked the culinary world by handing back his Michelin stars was stunned Monday to find himself back in the prestigious guide’s new edition.

Sebastien Bras cited the “huge pressure” that came with Michelin recognition when he asked in September 2017 for his three-star restaurant Le Suquet to be left out of the 2018 guide.

Michelin agreed, with the company’s then brand manager Claire Dorland Clauzel telling AFP: “It is difficult for us to have a restaurant in the guide which does not wish to be in it.”

Bras spent the following year rustling up inventive French cuisine at his restaurant in the town of Laguiole, in the rural Aveyron region, without worrying whether it was meeting Michelin’s exacting standards.

But on Monday the 47-year-old said he was “surprised” to see the restaurant back in the 2019 guide, with two stars.

“This contradictory decision has left us with doubts, even if in any case we no longer worry about either the stars or the strategies of the guide,” he said in a statement sent to AFP.

Bras took over the kitchen at Le Suquet from his father Michel a decade ago.

The elder Bras had held three Michelin stars since 1999, and his son said that knowing a single below-par dish could cost him his reputation had created unbearable pressure as a chef.

“You’re inspected two or three times a year, you never know when,” he told AFP in 2017.

“That means that every day one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged.”

“Maybe I will be less famous, but I accept that,” he said of dropping out of the Michelin guide.

Shock losers

Michelin said it had celebrated more female chefs and young talent in its 2019 guide to the best restaurants in France.

Stephanie Le Quellec won a second star for Parisian restaurant La Scene, while 24-year-old wunderkind Julia Sedefdjian won her first for a new restaurant Baieta.

In one of the biggest shocks, star Alpine chef Marc Veyrat lost his third star, along with the Auberge de L’Ill, a restaurant in Alsace that has held three stars for 51 years.

“It’s hard for the team, it’s hard for everyone - the customers, the family,” its chef Marc Haeberlin told France 3 Alsace television.

“I don’t know how to explain this loss,” said Haeberlin, whose family has run an inn in Alsace for 150 years.

Veyrat, known as much for his ever-present wide-brimmed black hat as his love of mountain herbs, confirmed that his restaurant the Maison des Bois had also lost its third star.

“I’m terribly disappointed. I can’t understand it at all,” said Veyrat, who earned the coveted third star only last year.

“I will stay combative and stand by the team in my kitchen,” Veyrat said, blasting the decision as “unfair”.

Record 75 restaurants

The guide’s new international director Gwendal Poullennec had promised to breathe new life into its pages this year.

A record 75 restaurants have earned new spots in the one, two or three star rankings for 2019.

“It’s a reflection of the great dynamism of French gastronomy, in all regions, with establishments set up by talented young people who are often entrepreneurs who have taken risks,” Poullennec said.

A large number of international chefs are also honoured - many of them Japanese - while Argentine Mauro Colagreco became the only foreigner to currently hold three stars in France.

“So many emotions. Thank you! I’m so honoured,” said the 42-year-old, whose Mirazur restaurant on the glitzy Cote d’Azur ranked fourth last year on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

Chef Laurent Petit meanwhile praised the feared Michelin reviewers for having “the sense” to award him a third star for Le Clos des Sens restaurant in Annecy.

“I’m delighted to have won a third star with endive roots and a cabbage tart. Simple, simple, simple,” he said.