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CHASING STARS

An Outline in Notes

Prefatory Thoughts 

Chasing Stars is a story about the lives of some of the best chefs cooking today in France —  their struggles, their dreams, their glories, their disappointment — through the lens of the Michelin Guide. But, it's also a story about food, France, and our love of the country, its culture, its landscapes. In a way, it's an adventure story, and we are the adventurers.

A book can't simply be a study of chef after chef, meal after meal. The chefs' personal stories serve to engage readers and add a personal element. Each chef tells a unique story about his history, about Michelin, about France, about food, about the life of a chef in the country that invented fine dining.

Importantly, there are also intertwined story lines — threads, we call them — that run through the book. These serve to take readers into the culinary culture of France, to illustrate the importance of the Michelin Guide, and to introduce our personal French culinary journey. There’s also the chance to savor regional color in other of our experiences: like truffle hunting in Provence, or barrel tasting the Grand Crus of Burgundy.

Here are some of the threads that stitch together our culinary travel tales —

  • The food of France. We often refer to this as "French culinary culture", because the topic encompasses much more than just "good food". In France, food is a part of the fabric of the country. 

  • The history of the Michelin Guide and the significance of the guide in French culinary culture.

  • Behind the scenes in some of the best kitchens of France.

  • The typical life of a chef, including the rigorous Reichrath training in France.

  • What it’s like to be in these restaurants’ dining rooms, with descriptions of the best of the meals.

I. In The Beginning, Michelin Created Stars

Only in France would you find roving bands of chefs — the trunks of their Renaults crammed with wine, cheese, baguettes and toques — spilling across the countryside to distant Michelin-starred restaurants to ferret out their secrets.

  • On a dark winter night in Provence, with the mistral in full force, we were dining with our friend Jean-François Sylvestre, the maître d’hôtel (restaurant manager, or Head of House) at a Michelin one-star restaurant in the nearby village of Roaix. 

  • “All we think about is how to get a second star. During the off season, when Le Grand Pré is closed for two months, the team travels around Europe, visiting two-star restaurants, looking for clues. What are they doing that we’re not? Is their wine cellar better? What is it?”

  • Like most civilian food lovers we knew something about the Michelin star system, but we had no idea there were teams of French restaurateurs scouring the countryside on a singular mission, each asking the same question, “What do they have that we don’t?”

  • We decided to find out why Michelin matters to all these chefs on a road trip that would take us from the boulevards of Paris to the vineyards of Burgundy and Peter Mayle’s Provence, seeking out Michelin-starred chefs to get their side of the story.

  • This chapter introduces J-F and establishes him as our Virgil, our guide, and our story arc. As we pursue the Michelin quest around France we check in with J-F from time to time as he moves from restaurant to restaurant, helping some of them win and hold on to Michelin stars.

  • We introduce Michelin — the company and its guides — and explain how the Michelin Guide to restaurants works, starting with the basics. For instance, there’s a new edition every year, so the stars are ephemeral.

  • We explain how Michelin judging is anonymous and ongoing throughout the year. Identities of the inspectors are guarded, although there are interesting exceptions to this rule, which we reveal.

  • We also introduce our personal story; how we have been seduced by the culture, food, the landscape, and the people of France. We bring readers into our world and take them with us on a Michelin-flavoured French food adventure.

II. “A Divine Star Is Born!”

Chef Jacky Ribault

Qui Plume la Lune, Paris 11th 

Chef Jean-Christophe Rizet

La Truffiere, Paris 5th

Chef was late. We had rushed from our train to get to restaurant Qui Plume la Lune for our six o’clock appointment and we’ve been kept waiting a good half hour…  

Finally, at 6:36, Chef Jacky Ribault strolled in. He was dressed in jeans and a white V-neck tee shirt, and had a heart pendant tied around his neck with twine. He smelled of liquor and cigarettes. The two-day beard was not an affectation…

  • In a hole-in-the wall restaurant in the unstylish 11th Arrondissement of Paris we meet Chef Jacky Ribault.

  • Jacky has wanted a Michelin star from the time he was nine-year-old boy growing up on a small farm in Brittany.

  • He left school at age thirteen to begin his cooking apprenticeship.

  • In the first years at his own restaurant business was very slow; some nights there would be no diners at all. Jacky sold his car, his framed pictures, anything of value. His wife wanted a divorce, his 5-year-old daughter couldn’t understand why mommy and daddy were always fighting.

  • He thought he would never get a star and feared the restaurant would never be a success.

  • But, it was a famous food critic who told him to stop cooking for the bourgeoisie. Stop cooking like you're trying to get a star, he said. Be yourself.

  • In the very next edition of the annual guide a Michelin star was awarded to Qui Plume la Lune.

  • When he heard the news, Chef announced the delivery of his divine star on his website with a lengthy poem that began:

          Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!

          Play oboes, violins, bagpipes, drums and trumpets!

          Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! A divine star is born! 

  • Next, in the hot, cramped, over-crowded kitchen, Chef Ribault revealed the secrets behind the amazing burst of flavours his cooking is known for — a reduction of this, a distillation of that, raw milk butter from Brittany, a bite of black sesame paste, a sip of sea water.

  • We travel to an elegant restaurant housed in the former hunting lodge of French emperor Napoleon III. 

  • Located in the expansive Bois de Boulogne, hanging off the west side of Paris, the restaurant takes its name from the neighbouring 46-ft-high manmade waterfall, une cascade.

  • We introduce classical French chef Frédéric Robert, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants all his life, training and cooking with some of the most well-known chefs of the country.

  • For ten years Chef Robert was the sous (the second chef) to iconic Chef Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton in Paris, at the time that the chef famously "gave back" his three Michelin stars. Chef Robert explains why he wasn't happy when Senderens renounced the stars.

  • From Alain Senderens, Robert learned how to create recipes using only paper and pen.

  • Robert defines a great meal as one you remember ten years later.

  • In the busy kitchen, during lunch service, we watch as La Grande Cascade's classic French dishes are created; we vividly describe three of these dishes as they are built, step-by-step in the bustling kitchen.

  • Certain chapters will have more food talk in them, this is one of them. We will describe in delicious detail the meal Chef Robert prepared for us, sharing with readers the details and wonders of their iconic dishes; truffle and foie gras stuffed macaroni, crab gelée with Prunier caviar, and for dessert, a sphere of strawberry explosion. 

  • This chapter introduces the newsworthy concept of chefs renouncing Michelin stars. (Spoiler Alert: you can't "give back" Michelin stars. In fact, even though Alain Senderens change his menu and even the name of his restaurant, Michelin awarded him two stars in the next edition of the annual guide.)

Follow-Up: Jacky Ribault has held on to his star and has opened a second restaurant on the east side of Paris that has also been awarded a star. He retained both stars in the most recent edition of the guide. Christophe Rizet lost his star soon after our interview. He left La Truffiere, and now runs the kitchen at Qui Plume la Lune for Jacky.

III. The Michelin Man

Chef Frédéric Robert

La Grande Cascade, Bois de Boulogne, Paris 16th

Chef Jean-Louis Nomicos

Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos, Paris 16th

What would he would do if he was to win a second star? With his chin cupped between his forefinger and thumb Chef Robert considered a moment.  "I would get drunk on whiskey and champagne.”

  • We travel to an elegant restaurant housed in the former hunting lodge of French emperor Napoleon III. 

  • Located in the expansive Bois de Boulogne, hanging off the west side of Paris, the restaurant takes its name from the neighbouring 46-ft-high manmade waterfall, une cascade.

  • We introduce classical French chef Frédéric Robert, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants all his life, training and cooking with some of the most well-known chefs of the country.

  • For ten years Chef Robert was the sous (the second chef) to iconic Chef Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton in Paris, at the time that the chef famously "gave back" his three Michelin stars. Chef Robert explains why he wasn't happy when Senderens renounced the stars.

  • From Alain Senderens, Robert learned how to create recipes using only paper and pen.

  • Robert defines a great meal as one you remember ten years later.

  • In the busy kitchen, during lunch service, we watch as La Grande Cascade's classic French dishes are created; we vividly describe three of these dishes as they are built, step-by-step in the bustling kitchen.

  • Certain chapters will have more food talk in them, this is one of them. We will describe in delicious detail the meal Chef Robert prepared for us, sharing with readers the details and wonders of their iconic dishes; truffle and foie gras stuffed macaroni, crab gelée with Prunier caviar, and for dessert, a sphere of strawberry explosion. 

  • This chapter introduces the newsworthy concept of chefs renouncing Michelin stars. (Spoiler Alert: you can't "give back" Michelin stars. In fact, even though Alain Senderens change his menu and even the name of his restaurant, Michelin awarded him two stars in the next edition of the annual guide.)

  • Next up: we visit the chef who was previously at the helm at the kitchen at La Grande Cascade and who won that restaurant its Michelin star – Jean-Louis Nomicos. We meet him in his own restaurant in the upscale 16th Arrondissement.

  • Nomicos told us that when super-chef and French culinary legend Joel Robuchon decided to close his restaurants and "retire" from cooking (Spoiler Alert: he didn't stay retired for long), Nomicos took over the space that had been home to the two-star La Table de Joel Robuchon, rechristening it Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos.

  • The very next next year Nomicos won a Michelin star. 

  • We begin to suspect that Michelin tends to follow chefs who have been working in starred kitchens, and that perhaps they even follow the kitchen itself when it changes hands.

  • In one of the largest and the most modern kitchens we've been in we learn about a famous dish that Nomicos invented at La Grande Cascade when he was only 27 years old. 

  • This signature dish, macaroni aux truffes noires et foie gras (macaroni with black truffles and foie gras), is now on the menu at his own restaurant, at LGC, and other top restaurants in Paris such as Le Bristol and Lasserre.  We learn how a single dish can propel a chef to legendary status. 

Follow-Up: Chef Robert remains in command of the kitchen at La Grande Cascade. The restaurant still has only one star. Jean-Louis Nomicos simplified the name of his restaurant to Nomicos and has retained his Michelin star. He now also oversees Le Frank, a restaurant at Fondation Luis Vuitton, in a Frank-Ghery-designed building in the Bois de Boulogne.

IV. Lost in the Michelin Wilderness

Chef Bruno Monnoir

Le Benaton, Beaune, Burgundy

"I'm Obelix," chef declared. "I fell into a magic elixir and it gave me cooking powers…

"I wasn't the man who takes the train. I was the man who stays at the station and watches the train go by…

"You don’t find your cuisine when you are twenty-five. Maybe when you are forty-five you discover your cuisine.”

  • In Burgundy we meet Bruno Monnoir, who waited 16 years to win his first star. 

  • We hear from him how it takes years of training, and decades of practice, to really learn how to cook in a distinctive way. Bruno believes chefs don’t come into their own until they’re 45 years old. 

  • “I know how to cook,” he declared; he felt he was as good as anyone. But, every year, at the time of the Michelin announcement, his former mentor would telephone him, “Is there any news?” But there never was. Then, finally, after more than a decade, his mentor called and said, “It’s good news for you this year.”

  • But, Bruno and his wife Isabelle had had so many years of disappointment that they didn’t believe it until they read it in the newspaper.

  • For the previous four years [before the star was awarded] no Michelin inspector had even visited his restaurant.

  • In desperation, Isabelle phoned Michelin’s head office in Paris, to be told that there were so many young chefs they must visit, they didn’t have time for Le Benaton.

  • Now, ten years after he had won a star, Monnoir was still frustrated, and wondering why he hadn’t won a second star.

  • From Monnoir we learn that for him Michelin is a “golden prison”.  He described the stress  in trying to keep the star.

  • We ventured into the impossibly small kitchen during dinner service, where chef is working with his sous chef and an assistant.

  • In the dining room we discovered  that Monnoir’s cooking boast was well founded and why he felt he deserved a second star. In fact, his is the only restaurant we recommend to Eric Ripert when we later interviewed him for Chasing Stars.

  • As a contrast to Chef Bruno Monnoir's story, we meet two young chefs nearby in Burgundy — Head Chef Edouard Mignot and Pastry Chef Émilie Rey, both barely thirty — who won their star less than a year after opening their restaurant Ed.Em

  • They are the new generation; the type of young chefs Monnoir was told Michelin pays attention to. 

  • Both Mignot and Rey trained in the prestigious kitchen brigade at 3-star Lameloise, located in the neighbouring Burgundian wine village.

  •  Although they were timid  when we spoke with them, their cooking was dynamic, technically solid. Emilie’s desserts particularly were a triumph. In a single meal, she showed her exemplary skills in a pre-dessert, a dessert, and a trio of post-desserts .

  • We return to the observation that Michelin follows chefs who have been in what we began to think of as the "Michelin system”.

Follow-Up: Shortly after our interview Chef Monnoir and his wife sold Le Benton to his Japanese sous chef, Keishi Sugimura. Even with a change of chef, the restaurant has retained its star. Ed.Em. has retained its one star. Emilie Rey appeared on the popular French show, Qui Sera le Prochain Grand Pâtissier ?  (Who Will be The Next Great Baker?). 

V. "If I Lost My Star I’d Curl Up and Die”

Chef Jacques Faussat

La Braisiere, Paris 17th

For two weeks nothing happened and then boom. A few good reviews and suddenly the restaurant was filled for both lunch and dinner service...

"Of course I was very happy. But for me it was very personal. It took so much work, so much behind-the-scenes toiling that it’s hard to describe what the experience means..." 

After La Braisiere won a star business went through the roof; it put a lot of strain on his marriage. Although the restaurant thrived, the marriage ended. 

For Chef Jacques Faussat it’s not so much about winning a second star it’s about keeping the first star, "If I lost my star I would hide away and cry. It would be devastating."

As for the second star, "You don’t decide.”

  • At restaurant La Braisiere in the desirable 17th Arrondissement, near Parc Monceau, Chef Faussat is in the dining room. It’s unusual enough for a chef to be in the front of the house during service, but it’s nearly unheard of for a chef of this calibre to be taking orders and even delivering plates. 

  • This chapter is about a passionate chef — passionate about his cooking, passionate about his home region of Southwest France, passionate about his Michelin star – who, while hoping to win a second star, instead is stripped of his star, only to win it back a few years later.

  • We relate Faussat's story as we were served the six-course the dinner Chef prepared for us. The meal was infused with the flavors and ingredients of Gascony — Armagnac, fat duck, black truffles, and prunes. 

  • Young Jacques Faussat loved to wander the woods and countryside around his family home, foraging for mushrooms and escargots to sell to local restaurants for pocket money.

  • It was in the kitchen of a famous local restaurant that teenaged Jacques had his first professional cooking experience.. 

  • Jacques at fourteen left his family and his childhood to enter cooking school.

  • "Work. Learn. Grow." He wanted to prove to his parents that he could be as successful working with his hands as with his head.

  • Between courses we follow chef into the kitchen to watch him whip up a soufflé, among other delights.

  • It's from Jacques we learn how important it is for a chef to retain a star for their business, their livelihood, and their pride.

  • The chapter explores the typical path of a chef born outside of Paris. Wherever they're from, whatever department they are born in, they all arrive to Paris to further their professional career.

  • It also shows how regional memories and early-life tastings play a part in the world of French cooking. In an instance of regional pride — regional chauvinism — in Paris young Jacques was hired by Alain Dutournier, a more-famous chef who was also born in his region of Gascony.

Follow-Up: Chef Faussat lost his one star three years after our story, but managed to win it back three years later, also changing the restaurant name to simply Jacques Faussat.

VI. While My Guitar Gently Whisks

Chef Fabien Fage

Le Prieuré, Villeneuve-lèz-Avignon, Provence

The Marcel, Sete, Languedoc

Chef Fabien Fage is a compact man, slender as a reed with a sleek black chef shirt and a black apron that wraps tightly around his wasp-waist. His dark hair is slicked back, his green eyes reveal a certain darkness, a seriousness, a complexity that only lifts when he smiles. Then you can imagine what he must look like when he’s playing his Fender Stratocaster.

  • From Fabien Fage we learn cooking is not a glamorous profession, it's a demanding job six days a week and the path to Michelin success is rocky.

  • Fabien was a poor student, not interested in school.  By the time he was 14 his academic years were over. He ended up in auto mechanics’ school, but he hated it. 

  • The administration took him aside and asked him what else he would like to try. Cooking, perhaps? Passion, none…

  • He was a reluctant student but when he overheard one of his teachers praising his culinary talents, Fabien decided to apply himself. 

  • His training years took him to the best kitchens in Paris, Provence and to ski resorts in the Alps.

  • One night after service he had a couple beers with friends and drove home. Chef Fage fell asleep at the wheel and ran into a tree. He fractured his skull and the first and second vertebrate. He would spend two weeks in the hospital and be off work for a full six months.

  • "Until the accident, all I ever did was work, work, work. I never planned. It was just go, go, go." After the car accident he decided, "I want to become a head chef!"

  • So, he created a plan to pursue excellence in the kitchen; if that didn’t work out, he would give it up and pursue his other passion, playing bluesy guitar.  

  • In fact he also said to us, "I love cooking. The most pleasure is the pleasure you give to another person."

  • But, whatever heartache he felt or uncertainty about his career, even though he might be uncertain about his future, his cooking was superb, distinct, with a feminine quality and a lightness of touch.

  • It had a such a unique fingerprint that when we ate his food five years later we recognized it immediately, even though it was a different menu, in a different restaurant, in a different region.

  • Cut in between our talk with Chef Fage are descriptions of two of the two meals we experienced five years and two hundred miles apart.

Follow-Up: Chef Fage left Le Prieuré to take up the head chef position at restaurant The Marcel in the Mediterranean port town of Sete, two hundred miles away. He was awarded a Michelin star at that restaurant in the next edition of the Michelin Guide. Le Prieuré has retained its star with a new Chef de Cuisine. We ate there again in late 2019.

VII. An Island In Bourgogne

Chef Laurent Peugeot

Le Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses, Burgundy

"The only influences that matter to me are from Asia… I am outside of the French system of chef training. I get my inspiration not from books, not from other restaurants, but from the food I find at the market, from my travels, from my brain.”

  • This is a chapter about a chef whose head is in Japan even though his restaurant is in the middle of the vineyards of Burgundy. 

  • He vacillated between saying he didn't want a second star to proclaiming that he deserved a second star. 

  • Of all our chefs, Laurent Peugeot best understood the concept of dining as theatre; he put on the best show.

  • August, and the vineyards are big and leafy and green. We passed through villages with famous wine names: Pernand-Vergelesses, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Pommard, Meursault. Smack dab in the middle of one of the premier appellations of Burgundy was a chef who had closer ties to Asia than to the vineyards right outside his restaurant.

  • Standing in his beautifully designed kitchen, Chef Peugeot told us that he uses new techniques that may puzzle the Michelin inspectors — techniques influenced by his love of Asian flavours and the time he has spent in Japan and Thailand. Looking around, we saw that all the cooks working Le Charlemagne’s kitchen were Asian. 

  • When asked which French chefs have inspired him, he shrugged and said, “None.” 

  • For inspiration Peugeot doesn’t look to cookbooks, restaurants or other chefs. “At Lameloise,” the celebrated three-star Burgundy restaurant he trained in, “the chef would develop a recipe and then find a plate for it. I work the other way. I look for the plate first and then develop the recipe.”

  • The place oozed Japan. From the bamboo garden and waterfall at the entry to the virtual koi pond guests passed over on their way to the dining room. It was a surprise to look out the windows and remember that we were in the heart of Burgundy.

  • When he opened Le Charlemagne, other chefs thought he was crazy to introduce this heavily Japanese fusion restaurant in the heart of Burgundy.

  • When he finally won his one star, his business grew by 40%.

  • Chef believes that Michelin is changing. “Five years ago, the inspectors were all 60 years old. Now these men are retired and with the new guy in charge, there’s a shift in what they’re looking for.” Now, they’re rewarding young chefs and Asian-influenced cooking, not just classic French food.

  • The dining room was stunning; every aspect Japanese-inspired and carefully coordinated.

  • This was the only Michelin-starred meal we've experienced that came with instructions.

Follow-Up: Chef Peugeot didn’t get a second star. On the contrary, he would lose his star in a subsequent edition of the guide, to win it back in 2020.

VIII. A Fallen Star

Chef Thierry Bonfante

Le Temps de Vivre, Les Farjons, Provence

Life had been good at Le Grand Pré.  For Jean-François the job gained him entry to the most prestigious local wineries. The Michelin star acted as a key the doors of the best cellars. 

“It’s something for a winery to get onto a carte de vin of a Michelin-star restaurant. It gives them prestige and a chance to open up a new market.”

  • Over a long lunch on Bastille Day, at a small terrace restaurant in Provence, Jean-François relates the fate of Le Grand Pré, the one-star restaurant where he once worked and whose story launched our culinary journey.

  • D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Instead of winning a second star, Le Grand Pré closed its doors because of an acrimonious split between the chef and the Head of House — his wife.

  • The business that they spent a decade building collapsed. The dream was dead, and with it J-F's livelihood. 

  • J-F took us to his friend's restaurant — Chef Thierry Bonfante, Le Temps de Vivre — to share a meal on the biggest French national holiday. 

  • While dining on tender crisp sweetbread and thick slabs of foie gras we learned the details of the demise of LGP.

  • Here we continue with J-F's story, his background, and what he's doing now. At the time, J-F had a contract with the cooperatif in Vacqueyras to breath life into a restaurant located in the wine cooperative's building. It's difficult, we learned, to run a restaurant when you have to hire a chef; the perfect situation is with the wife in the front and the husband as chef.

  • J-F told us how Michelin recognition opens doors with food suppliers, vignerons, the media, etc. After LGP closed, and while he was trying to provision his new venture in Vacqueyras, some wineries still treated him well, while others shunned him because, they told him, he didn’t have a star any longer. J-F said frankly, “I  won’t forget that.”

  • As an alternative to high-profile Michelin cooking, we hear Chef Thierry Bonfante's story.  

  • He started cooking professionally in 1989 at  the age of nineteen and worked at fifteen restaurants in twelve years, including Helen Darroze in Paris and 2- and 3-star restaurants in France and Switzerland.

  • But he decided to abandon the pursuit of winning Michelin stars. He sought a quieter, more settled life, and now runs this country restaurant with his wife, leaving behind the "Michelin system”.

  • Two restauranteurs, both now outside of the Michelin "system" (one by choice, one by circumstance), speak candidly about Michelin and what it means to restaurants and chefs.

  • We propel the story arc forward: J-F's narrative moves on from chasing a second star to the next restaurant chapter in his life.

IX. "I'm A Free Man”

Chef Pierre Orsi

Orsi, Lyon

Chef Christian Tetedoie

Tetedoie, Lyon

"To me, cooking is easy. It’s a beautiful dance; I still like it. I get up every morning at 5:00 to welcome the fish man who delivers at 5:30. I like to inspect the fish before the other deliveries arrive. Then I prepare for the lunch service. But now that I’m an old man, I take a two-hour nap before dinner service."

  • It's not often that you get to meet a legend, but there he was, dressed in chef's whites from head to toe, welcoming us into the three-story historic mansion on Place Kléber in the center of Lyon, where he has lived, cooked, and been feeding people for half a century. 

  • Meet Pierre Orsi, the oldest Michelin-star chef in France still working in the kitchen every day. 

  • Of all the five hundred odd Michelin one-star chefs in France, Pierre Orsi has perhaps the most accolades and achievements and was certainly the oldest one, at 75, still working in the kitchen every day and still involved in every aspect of the large and famous restaurant.

  • His rose-themed restaurant was a veritable museum to the life of Chef Orsi and the haute cuisine of the 1970s. And Orsi is traditional French cooking, old school, even old fashioned.

  • We are probably the millionth journalist to interview him in this location and during the years he spent traveling the world.

  • During his long career, Orsi was awarded an MOF, worked in Maxim’s Paris, the famous Art Nouveau bistro, when it had three stars, and cooked in the USA before returning to Lyon.

  • We discover that Orsi held two stars for years, but eventually lost one of them. What happens when you lose a star?

  • “Now I’m free man! Free of Michelin and the whole lot. Michelin is for the younger men, like Chef Tetedoie. He wants a second star. Why not? He’s young and ambitious. But for me, I’ll just play out my last years here.”

  • “There’s only one guide for chefs,” said Orsi, “And it’s Michelin. We never, never talk about any other guide.”

  • Across town and the river Saône, we meet Christian Tetedoie, a complete contrast to Chef Orsi. Younger, more ambitious, following current cooking trends, with his eye on a second star for his gleaming new restaurant, set high on a hillside, looking down on Orsi’s restaurant and the rest of the city.

  • Of the chefs we met, Tetedoie was the one with the most ambitious goals — two and even three stars. To that end, Tetedoie had invested millions of euros to build a monument to French cuisine high above Lyon, with beautiful views of the city’s two famous rivers.

  • Chef’s publicist guided us through the multi-story structure, anxious to show off the modern art, the dining room, the wine bar, the casual outdoor restaurant, and the rooftop terrace. “Chef is not like other men — look around, he chose every detail.”

  • We joined Chef Tetedoie in the kitchen where he expertly deboned some lamb and whipped up two kinds of tarts.

  • “My fingers are crossed for the second star.” But he had his concerns — Michelin doesn’t like too many covers (seats). He believed that Michelin thinks that it’s impossible to serve two-star food to 160 covers, as his restaurant does nightly.

  • Chef Tetedoie was articulate, thoughtful, friendly. Unfortunately, the hit-and-miss meal we ate there was the worst of the bunch. The escargot was salty, the green sponge was chewy and unappealing and the foam was a melted puddle by the time it reached us.

  • The meal left us perplexed. Will ever catch that second star? Had his ambition superseded his control of the kitchen? Is Michelin correct in the notion that it’s impossible to offer superior food to more than 40 diners? 

  • We are left speculating that Chef Tetedoie may never achieve his goal of winning two or three stars.

Follow-Up: In his 80th year Pierre Orsi lost his last remaining star. Christian Tetedoie continues to chase a second star.

X. The Suspicious Chef

Chef Stéphane Gaborieau

La Pergolèse, Paris 16th

"If you want to understand the quality of a restaurant, check the toilet."

  • "I am closed!" Chef Stéphane Gaborieau lifted both hands and crossed his arms to bar the way into his Paris restaurant, La Pergolèse, located in the tony 16th Arrondissement. He was a big fellow — think Gerard Depardieu with shaggy silver hair, a balding pate, and gold chains around his neck playing the role of a slightly demented Michelin-star chef.

  • "Who are you people, anyway?" We reeled off our qualifications, reminded him of our correspondence in which he invited us to interview him at the restaurant, and dropped a few chef names before we rolled out the big gun — Pierre Orsi.

  • "Pierre Orsi!! J'adore Pierre Orsi! He's my spiritual Papa!"

  • As he listed the many good qualities about legendary Chef Pierre Orsi, Stephane was playing with his telephone. With childhood delight, he announced he was calling Pierre Orsi right away. 

  • “Bonjour, Pierre. Listen, I'm sitting here with a couple of jokers who claim to be food writers. They say they've visited with you..." 

  • With Pierre Orsi's seal of approval, Stephane was ready to talk to us. 

  • Orsi taught him to respect all the materials in a restaurant (materiaux). Not just the food, but the tablecloths the china, the artwork. He says one way to check a restaurant’s quality, its attention to detail, is to visit the toilets. 

  • Chef Gaborieau said he was famous in Lyon when he worked with Orsi, he had a good life there. But, at a certain point in life one must search for something else. Being too comfortable is dangerous, complacent. He wanted to test himself, so he moved to Paris.

  • What would he do in five years? "Organic farming in Africa,” he replied with suspect philanthropy. 

  • "I've driven the finest cars in the world, I've loved beautiful women, now I want to help people.” Did we manage to keep the doubt off of our faces?

  • "There are two sides to every chef — the one that is never content and other side that is always slightly depressed."

  • “I'm 50, I'm not afraid to tell people what I think.“ Who would have guessed? 

  • He may have been bombastic, but all the food he served was superb.

  • Chef Gaborieau is an award-winner. Not only was he a Michelin-starred chef, he's an MOF and winner of the Taittinger Grand Prix award, as well as a fistful of other awards. 

  • The most important of these to him was the MOF — Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Best Craftsman of France — about the closest thing the country has to Nobel prizes.

Follow-Up: La Pergolèse lost its star in 2019. We last saw Chef Gaborieau riding off on his Harley.

XI. Eating Our Way Through Peter Mayle Country

Chef Christophe Renaud

La Coquillade, Gargas, Provence

Chef Xavier Mathieu

Le Phebus, Joucas, Provence

Chef Benjamin Bruno

Maitre d’Hotel Samuel Bruno

Chez Bruno, Lorgues, Provence

"Losing a star would be like bloosh." Chef Christophe Renaud made a crashing motion with his hands, starting above his head and ending at his waist, as if a bomb were falling and exploding. "It’s my life, my baby. I would be triste." Sad.

  • We travel the expanse of Peter Mayle's Provence, from Marseille to the rolling hills of the Luberon to the garrigues of the interior.

  • Along the way, we dine at two resort restaurants and one devoted to a single ingredient — the truffle. 

  • Through a rose-trellised archway we looked onto the resort and restaurant of La Coquillade, near Gargas in the Luberon, Peter Mayle country.

  • There we met Chef Christophe Renaud who has been cooking professionally since he was fourteen years old... but, winning his own Michelin star three years ago was the pinnacle for him.

  • We don't like to think that our question (“What would you do if you lost your star?”) put a curse on Chef Renaud, but the next edition of the guide would contain bad news for him, and for his career.

  • Nearby, at another resort named Le Phebus, in the hills of Provence, Chef Xavier Mathieu proudly shows off this new helicopter landing pad. 

  • What once was a modest family-owned retreat is now a lavish hotel, restaurant, and spa complex dedicated to the wants and needs of an international set. 

  • Chef Mathieu, the son of the family, now oversees his eponymous, Michelin-starred restaurant at the resort. 

  • Chef looked like a 19th-century composer or perhaps a chef from the same era. He wore his silver hair brushed back, long around the collar. A pair of tiny glasses perched on his nose. But it was his dark, brown eyes that caught our attention. They seemed to look right into one’s soul.

  • He pointed to a young man who had greeted us at the front desk. The same large, dark eyes, but taller and much younger. “That’s my son Anthony... I only have one son but he’s a big one.”

  • Anthony was enrolled in the hotelier school his father had attended a generation earlier, but was unsure in which direction he would go. The previous summer he had helped in the kitchen, but the pressure of working with his father was too great.

  • To Xavier Mathieu being a Michelin-starred chef was a huge deal. It put him a certain league, one populated only by other Michelin chefs.

  • Towards the end of February he can barely sleep with the excitement and trepidation about the annual release of the Michelin Guide.

  • “It’s not just about wining a second star, it’s about keeping the first one!”

  • What would be like to lose the star? “Horrible, horrible,” he looked downward and shook his head.

  • And the possibility of winning a second star? “I’d rather be a fabulous one-star than a mediocre two-star,” a refrain we heard from more than one chef.

  • On the other side of Provence, up among the garrigues, a family legacy continues in a restaurant dedicated to truffles. A restaurant frequented by French celebrities, Hollywood stars, famous three-star chefs, and the Prince of Monaco. (And us!)

  • 35,000 annual customers, 4.5 tonnes of truffles, and two sons working in the shadow of a dominant force — the 6-foot 4-inch, 350-pound patriarch, Chef Clement Bruno.

  • Born out of passion and holding a Michelin star since 1999, we learn the story of restaurant Chez Bruno.

  • Most kings have a prince or two, and Clement Bruno was no exception. His two sons, Benjamin and Samuel (who even resembled princes with their Hollywood good looks – think young Pacino with a dash of Orlando Bloom) had taken the reigns at Chez Bruno.

  • Benjamin honed his culinary skills at top restaurants from Paris to Monte Carlo and at his own place in Nice. He was now in the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine. Brother Samuel, trained at hospitality college in Bordeaux, ran the front of house. 

  • Thirty-one years on, with Bruno’s truffle kingdom intact and his heirs on the throne, the master stepped away from the stove. His retirement party was a full-out affair, with a television crew, helicopters and of course, mountains of truffles.

  • When  we sat down and talked to them at a table on the restaurant’s vine-shaded terrasse, the two sons told of how they worry, trying to navigate the modern era and updating the restaurant while holding on to its star.

Follow-Up: Chef Christophe Renaud would lose his star, and his job at La Coquillade. He now runs a small restaurant with his wife in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence. La Coquillade remains without a star. Xavier Mathieu still holds his star at Le Phebus. Graduated from hotelier school, his son Anthony is working with him at the restaurant. The Bruno brothers have held on to their star at Chez Bruno.

XII. Starshine on Gigondas

Chef Raoul Reichrath

Le Grand Pré, Roaix, Provence

GastroBar, Faucon, Provence

"I had a purpose.  I wanted a star. Then I wanted two Michelin stars. It’s no secret…"

"Cooking is just a small part of the business.  An important element, but a small element. You have to know everything about how to run a successful business. It took me twenty years to figure that one out."

  • We finally meet up with Raoul Reichrath, formerly the chef/owner of Le Grand Pré, the Michelin one-star restaurant whose story inspired Chasing Stars.

  • At a leafy outdoor-only restaurant called GastroBar, Chef Reichrath’s seasonal pop-up eatery in the tiny Provençal village of Faucon (population 433) we were worlds away (though only eight miles) from his former Michelin-starred restaurant. 

  • After lunch Chef Reichrath joined us to share a bottle of champagne and tell us his tale and his plans for the future.

  • “It was the worst year of my life,” he told us about the period his marriage broke down and his restaurant closed. “My wife wanted to go back to Mexico and take the children with her.” After a bitter legal battle, she was prohibited from doing that.

  • “Once we closed we were finished, I had nothing. The whole thing collapsed. We were done.”

  • Since the demise of the restaurant and his marriage we sensed that Chef had lost his way, that he was struggling to find a new purpose, a new direction. The hardships of the past few years had clearly taken their toll.

  • But, he hadn't lost his culinary touch. The meal, simply served with paper napkins, was a triumph. The main course – gigot d’agneau, navets, piments d’Espelette was tender baked lamb with light, roasted vegetables and a touch of Basque red pepper. 

  • At that time LGP sat sad and empty, with his ex-wife living upstairs. The roadside direction signs were still on the roundabouts; on the building the restaurant sign hung unlit. There was a sense of loneliness about it, with a for-sale sign and an empty parking lot.

  • In this chapter we also learn about the failure of JF’s restaurant in Vacqueyras and his new position as maitre d'hotel at L'Oustalet, on the place in the legendary Côtes du Rhône wine village of Gigondas

Chef Laurent Deconinck

L'Oustalet, Gigondas, Provence

He got the call on a Saturday in January 2019, at 11:45 AM, just when noon service at restaurant L'Oustalet was about to begin. It was that time of year when chefs across France crossed their fingers in anticipation of the release of the annual Michelin Red Guide, due in a couple of weeks. On the phone was the directeur of Michelin, inviting Chef Laurent Deconinck to travel to Paris from his restaurant in Gigondas to an official ceremony, in just two days' time.

Chef asked the caller nervously, "Did I receive a star?"

"I can't tell you," the directeur replied. "All will be revealed at the ceremony."

"But, how do I know whether to come or not?"

"I can't tell you. But," the directeur relented just a bit, "I wouldn't be calling you for no reason.”

  • It’s our final Chasing Stars meal in Provence and we’re at L'Oustalet, where we congratulate Jean-Francois and Chef Deconinck on finally winning a Michelin star.

  • It was mid-October and it was still warm enough to dine outside. We were seated near the 100-year-old plane tree that dominates the restaurant’s patio, and beneath the olive tree that grows in the centre of the terrasse.

  • L’Oustalet is owned by the famille Perrin who are headquartered in nearby Châteauneuf du Pape. They are a wine-producing dynasty. The Perrin name became familiar to North American wine lovers at the time of their alliance with Brad Pitt, collaborating on the Pitt-Jolie Miraval wine project. 

  • J-F was brought on board to help L'Oustalet achieve its Michelin goal; organizing the front of house and helping with the wine cellar.

  • We learn that Chef Deconinck’s father was the family doctor for the Perrin family and that the family helped shape the young chef — and had first hired him to cook at international wine festivals.

  • From Chef we learned how much effort and planning can go into the attempt to win Michelin recognition; it can take years and plenty of resources.

  • Over the courses of a decade, and with an unlimited budget from the Perrins, Chef Deconinck brought in consultants from Paris, hired and fired staff, replaced dishes and cutlery, and purchased the best ingredients, all in the hope that of impressing the Michelin inspectors. Money and time were not obstacles. 

  • We've dined at L'Oustalet over the years and on that day, the multi-course meal we were served documented the progress of the restaurant. Every dish had purpose and used just a few key ingredients — all local — to showcase the best of the region: juniper berries, rabbit, fresh chickpeas and just-caught  fish from the Mediterranean, just an hour away. 

Follow-Up: L’Oustalet retained its star in the next edition of the guide. Chef Reichrath is now cooking in a hotel restaurant in the Languedoc region. He has not yet earned another star.

XIII. A Star Over Paris

Chef Frédéric Anton

Le Jules Verne, Eiffel Tower, Paris 7th

  • Looking over the Champ de Mars, slowly panning across the rooftops of Paris. The camera pulls back to reveal a dining table with elegant place settings, in front of a large window that affords the best bird’s-eye view of the City of Light.

  • We’re in legendary restaurant Le Jules Verne, located 400 feet above Paris on the Eiffel Tower, where we find the authors à table, blessed with the best seats in the house; in fact, the best restaurant seats in Paris.

  • For the previous decade Le Jules Verne had been helmed by French super-chef Alain Ducasse, the holder of dozens of Michelin stars around the world. But, in a move that made culinary headlines across France, the Eiffel Tower management declined to renew Ducasse's lease at Le Jules Verne when it expired eighteen months ago.

  • The new lessee was to be Chef Frédéric Anton, who for more than a decade has held three stars at the luxe Le Pré Catelan located in the Bois de Boulogne.

  • LJV recently reopened after being closed for over a year to effect a complete renovation — an elegant makeover  to signal the arrival of a new chef and new management under Frédéric Anton.

  • The courses were as chiseled as the architecture of the tower. Here the menu honors products from the French terroir and focuses on the bounty of the land with simple, unpretentious titles like Crab, Cauliflower, Farmhouse Chicken, Chestnut, and Chocolate.

  • We will describe the seven courses and the flurry of activity taking place around us.

  • In a nearby banquette a large multi-generational family from the French provinces were honoring their grandparents' anniversary. Next to us a chic couple from Belgium celebrated a birthday. As the meal progressed we noticed other celebrations and even a marriage proposal two tables down.

  • In contrast this magnificent meal we recall the sad, tired meal we ate here just last year, at the end of  Ducasse's tenure on the Tower.

  • It’s strange to think that this larger-than-life experience on the world's most famous monument has a real connection to the Michelin chefs we've met in small kitchens and humble villages.

  • There are giant Michelin egos at play here. Ducasse sued the Eiffel Tower management when he was served an eviction notice. Ultimately he lost, and now Anton is trying to out-do his rival and duplicate the success he's achieved at Le Pré Catelan.

  • In between courses we reflect on what we've experienced and return to the question we asked at the start of this journey — does Michelin matter to the chefs of France?

  • After the meal — relaxing, enjoying the view, and discussing how Michelin would rate this new restaurant — the maitre d’ leaned over our shoulders to say, in a soft voice:

  • “Are you ready to meet Chef now?” [end cold]

Follow-Up: Although we predicted two stars for Chef Antoine's Le Jules Verne (and named it the Best New Restaurant in Paris on our travel website, Paris Insiders Guide), Michelin in its wisdom awarded it only one star. Why don't they listen to us? We now predict LJV will get a second star in the next edition of the guide… and we’ll keep predicting that until it comes true !

©2020 by Voconces Culinary Ltd. Photographs ©Mark Craft.