Michelin unveils 62 newly starred French restaurants

The Michelin Guide unveiled its annual list of the best French restaurants Monday, praising the “cultural dynamism” of a new generation of chefs, though again honouring only a handful of women.

After a long period of resting on the laurels of its gastronomic reputation, France has seen a flourishing of new establishments in the last decade or so, absorbing international ideas and increasingly focusing on sustainability.

Two restaurants achieved the highest pinnacle of three stars at the annual ceremony, this year held in the Loire Valley city of Tours: Le Gabriel in Paris and La Table du Castellet in the southern Provence region.

A total of 62 restaurants were awarded at least one star — most joining the Michelin ranks for the first time, including 23 that have been open for less than a year.

The Espadon at the Paris Ritz won a star for the innovative Africa-inspired cooking of chef Eugenie Beziat.

Reflecting the continued male dominance of the industry, Beziat was one of just six women earning a star.

“Hopefully I’m here to inspire (other women) but I don’t have the answers. Everyone has a place in my kitchen as long as they work hard,” she told AFP.

Speaking on stage, Michelin Guide director Gwendal Poullennec acknowledged: “There are too few women at the head of kitchens despite their being more and more numerous in culinary schools and restaurant teams.

“It’s a reality we deplore,” he said, adding he remained hopeful about “the strong initiatives to promote talented young women.”

– ‘Age doesn’t matter’ –

La Table du Castellet, which focuses on locally-sourced seafood and vegetables, went straight to the top ranking in its first year under Fabien Ferre. At just 35, he is now the youngest chef in France with three stars.

“Age doesn’t matter. Life is made of failures. I’ve had them and yet I’m here being crowned… you have to fight,” a tearful Ferre told AFP immediately after earning his three-starred chef’s whites.

The Michelin Guide celebrated his “perfectly executed creative dishes” and “deep and punchy sauces”.

Le Gabriel is an exclusive eatery near the Champs-Elysees in Paris inspired by head chef Jerome Banctel’s native Brittany, where the dinner menu starts at 278 euros.

Michelin praised Banctel’s “cosmopolitan alchemist skills”, singling out his lobster cooked with binchotan (a carbon normally used in Japanese cooking), almond praline and peach with verbena.

“All these years of working without any recompense and moments of self-doubt,” a choked-up Banctel told AFP, adding he couldn’t wait for the tears and cries of joy when he walked back into the kitchen on Tuesday morning.

There are now 30 restaurants with three stars in France, 75 with two, and 534 with one.

Many were rewarded Monday for their sustainable, locally-sourced cuisine.

“French gastronomy is no longer stuck in the past,” Poullennec told AFP before the ceremony. “There is a very clear emphasis on the ‘terroirs’ — the local agricultural fabric.”

– Demotions –

Michelin announced demotions two weeks ago — done in advance to avoid any bitter taste at the ceremony.

A total of 28 lost a star this year, including one three-star establishment.

The annual ceremony has become a touring affair around France since the Covid-19 pandemic, with the last two held in Strasbourg and Cognac.

That reflects the spread of France’s best restaurants beyond Paris, with regional eateries accounting for most of the new stars in recent years.

Some 40 small municipalities and villages find themselves with a Michelin-starred restaurant in the new edition.

Among top chefs, the Michelin Guide is as feared and criticised as it is respected.

Its anonymous reviewers can make or break reputations, with very tangible impacts on the fragile bottom lines of restaurants.

Tyre-manufacturing brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin launched their first guide in 1900 to encourage motorists to discover restaurants around France.

It has since expanded to 45 destinations around the world, and will this year launch a similar guide for hotels.


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