In 1900, a French tire company published a restaurant guide in an effort to get people to hit the road and use their new automotive products more.
One hundred and seventeen years and millions of tires later, Michelin's three-star system (one-star: "A very good restaurant in its category", two stars: "Excellent cooking, worth a detour," and three stars: "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey") has become the ultimate status symbol for chefs around the world. So coveted are the little stars handed out by anonymous inspectors that the weight of the rating system has even been linked, albeit superficially, to the suicides of two chefs.
And while Michelin stars may lost some of their shine among younger chefs, it's not every day that you see a third-generation French chef hand back his stars to the tire company. But today is one of those days, because that's exactly what Sebastien Bras of three-Michelin-starred Le Suquet, in Laguiol, France has done.
According to Agence France Presse, Sébastien Bras said he wanted to be dropped from the 2018 edition of the Michelin Guide. As to why he would willingly deprive himself of the prestige that comes with being part of a very small club, Bras said it came down to the stress of maintaining such high standards all year long.
"You're inspected two or three times a year, you never know when," he reportedly said. "Every meal that goes out could be inspected. 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."
But Bras isn't throwing in the towel completely, as he will continue to cook, but with a different critic in mind, or, as he put it, "without wondering whether my creations will appeal to Michelin's inspectors."
Bras actually isn't the first chef to put three stars in a doggy bag and give them back to Michelin. In 1999, firebrand chef Marco Pierre White, who at 33 was the youngest chef ever to receive three stars, renounced the stars that he had once obsessively pursued and maintained.
"I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself," Pierre White famously said. "I had three options: I could be a prisoner of my world and continue to work six days a week, I could live a lie and charge high prices and not be behind the stove, or I could give my stars back, spend time with my children and reinvent myself."
He's not even the first French chef to do so; French restaurateurs Alain Senderens and Olivier Roellinger caused a shitstorm, respectively, when they gave back their stars more than a decade ago. But Bras is, according to Michelin, the first French who asked to be dropped from the Guide "without a major change of positioning or business model."
Sebastien is the son of legendary chef Michel Bras, who also received three Michelin stars when he ran Le Suguet. Earlier this year, MUNCHIES spoke with a contemplative Sebastien Bras about his new restaurant on Japan's isolated Hokkaido island, and he already seemed far more interested in the finer points of milk, gardening, and his family than he did with the restaurant guide.
"When you're a child of the country, these are things you have inside of you that come out naturally, out of love," he said. "Our food is a representation of our desires, our inspirations, our harvest, and our market finds."
And that can be hard to remember, it seems, when stars are hanging above your head.