Michelin Beat A Chef's Lawsuit, And That's A Big Deal

Anybody who's ever created anything has had a moment where they wanted to take something a critic said and just smack that critic upside the head. The more inventive (or narcissistic) the creator is, the more elaborate the revenge fantasies get. So if you're a chef who's spent his career building up to earning three Michelin stars, chucking a plate of pasta across the room in anger isn't gonna do the job if one of those stars gets taken away.

That brings us to chef Marc Veyrat. A pretty famous dude in the culinary world, his restaurant La Maison des Bois is situated in the French Alps but world-renowned for using local mountainous ingredients in its luxurious menu. It was such a great place for a meal that the Michelin guide rated it with three stars, their highest rating, in 2018. But when the Michelin folks came back in 2019 for their annual check-up, they dropped it down to two stars. Egads!

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Veyrat was absolutely furious in a way that would probably impress the Soup Nazi himself. But rather than retreat to the mountains and live on a foraged-food diet that could still wow anybody, he decided to take a page out of the Taylor Swift guide to using the legal system. He brought a lawsuit against Michelin worth a symbolic one Euro, but also demanding that Michelin lay all their cards on the table. Veyrat wanted to know who came to his restaurant, when, and what those critics' culinary backgrounds were.

Because here's the crux of Veyrat's argument -- the Michelin people claim that the reason for the star deduction was that they had a cheese souffle that was made with ingredients different from what Veyrat knows his restaurant uses. The Michelin people say it was made with an English cheddar, and Veyrat played a video in court where he makes it with two French cheeses, Reblochon and Beaufort (the yellow color, Veyrat says, comes from saffron). We'll just cut right to the quick -- we've made cheese souffles before for this website, and while we're sure a Michelin-starred chef could make one spectacularly even with just a pack of Kraft singles, it's probably for the best if they're just taken off the menu entirely.

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But this explanation of ingredients is what makes it different from a standard case of complaining about what a critic said. Our opinion about cheese souffle should mean nothing if we literally get a key component of the dish wrong when reviewing it. If a movie critic says "The camera work on Jurassic World was inferior to Jurassic Park's," that's a firm and understandable opinion, but an opinion nonetheless. But if that critic says "The camera work on Jurassic World was inferior because they used an open-box Sony point-and-shoot camera purchased from a seedy Best Buy in Cleveland in 2007," then that's a demonstrably false statement and should not factor into the score or review.

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That's a pretty solid argument, and the one that Veyrat's attorneys were pretty sure was gonna hold up in court, while Michelin's argument was essentially "We can say whatever we want and be anonymous about it, and you can't stop us." That should be cut and dry, right? Well, not so much. Because the "free speech" from Michelin's inspectors was about another person, in this case Veyrat, the legal grounds got a little trickier, and the court ruled against Veyrat on the grounds that he could not prove any damages.

So here's our real problem -- while Veyrat can't exactly prove any monetary damages (he's charging like $350 for a fancy plate of local produce and a nice French mountain view and business is just fine), the damages were more to Veyrat's mental health. Reading interviews with the guy, you can line up his quotes and basically watch him going through all five stages of grief over the loss of his star. It was a huge point of contention in court that he fell into a deep depression for months after the deduction, and Veyrat is a guy who's been through a lot in his life. He had to give up cooking for years after a ski accident in 2006, and this restaurant is his little phoenix baby that he brought back up from the ashes after a fire in 2015.

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It's also not the first time that the loss of Michelin stars has done real damage, as Bernard Loiseau tragically committed suicide upon discovering he was losing a star. Some chefs, Veyrat included now, would rather not be included in the Michelin guide, and to date Michelin has only allowed that for one chef and would not remove Veyrat from the guide upon his request. Gordon Ramsay has likened the experience of losing a star to going through a hard breakup with a girlfriend.

What this all boils down to is that Michelin has now legally won the right to criticize pretty much whoever they want, and pretty much however they want, with next to no repercussions for their actions. It's a monopoly over criticism in the culinary world, and depending on how you view being a critic as a profession, this is either the best thing in the world or as disgusting as the slop your grandparents ate.

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