Ah, to be a chef with three Michelin stars: The envy of your peers. Reservation lists months long. The satisfaction of reaching the highest level of culinary art.
The crippling pressure to stay on top.
Sébastien Bras runs Le Suquet, a restaurant in the southern French town of Laguiole that first won its three stars in 1999, when it was run by his father Michel.
On Tuesday, Bras said he's had enough of the pressure that comes with upholding that honor: He'd like Michelin to leave Le Suquet out of its 2018 edition.
"I have decided, in agreement with my whole family, to open a new chapter of my professional life without the reward of the Michelin Guide, but with so much passion for cooking," wrote the 46-year-old Bras in a Facebook post, sounding a like a politician who has decided not to run again. "I intend to continue, with my faithful team, to bring life to Le Suquet this magical experience of [the region] Aubrac, always with this quest for excellence."
Bras elaborated to Agence France-Presse (in French) that he felt the "great pressure that results inevitably from the distinction of the three stars" – a pressure generated by anonymous and unannounced visits by Michelin's inspectors, two or three times a year.
"I will be able to feel free, without asking myself whether my creations would please the Michelin inspectors," he said. "Maybe I will be less famous, but I accept that, I assume that."
In 2017, Michelin gave its three-star distinction to just 26 restaurants in France.
In its latest guide, Michelin's inspectors declare Le Suquet "magical":
"[A] fabulous showcase for the culinary ingredients produced in the area. The style of the Bras father and son team is to get to the heart and soul of their ingredients. Take the gargouillou — one of the highlights at this restaurant — which is a twist on the vegetables or flowers of the day. An ode to the land."
The gargouillou has 50 to 60 ingredients, beautifully composed and changing daily according on what's available. It was dreamt up during a ramble through a meadow by Michel Bras, who founded the restaurant in 1992 and ran it until ten years ago, when the son took the helm. (You can watch a video of the dish's impeccable assembly of vegetables and flowers.)
Sébastien Bras said that like others in the culinary world, he had in the corner of his mind the 2003 suicide of Bernard Loiseau, a legendary French three-star chef. ("But I do not have that mindset," said Bras.)
Rumors had circulated that Loiseau's restaurant was going to lose a star, though according to The New Yorker, Michelin denied that its officials warned Loiseau he was in danger of losing his third star.
Other three-star chefs have escaped the Michelin pressure-cooker (or would it be a sous vide?) by closing or radically changing their restaurants. But the Michelin Guide told AFP that this was the first time a three-star chef in France had asked in advance to not be included, without a closure or change of concept. (The website Eater notes that chefs in Spain and Belgium have previously handed back their stars.)
For its part, the Michelin Guide says that while it has taken note of the request from Bras, it isn't sure what it will do.
"The Michelin guide is not meant for restaurateurs but for customers," Michelin's Claire Dorland-Clauzel told the news service. "Its independence rests in the awarding of distinctions."