French celebrity chef Marc Veyrat became on Wednesday the first cook to take Michelin to court for docking him his third star in a case the revered restaurant guide warned could open a “Pandora’s box” regarding food critic freedoms.
Mr Veyrat, 69, who accused Michelin of wrongly claiming he put English cheddar in his Gallic cheese soufflé and mistook scallops for monkfish liver, demanded the court in Nanterre outside Paris oblige the guide to disclose how its secretive inspectors came to their decision.
“We want to enter inside this machine,” said lawyer Emmanuel Ravanas, whose client – famed for his black Savoyard hat – was not present in court.
He demanded the inspectors prove their gastronomic skills, their assessment methods and “traces of debate” leading to his restaurant, La Maison des Bois, losing a third star in 2019 a year after obtaining it “without any warning” and “with almost exactly the same team”.
The demotion was, he said, “unprecedented in the history of gastronomic criticism”.
Speaking to the Telegraph before the hearing, Mr Veyrat said: “I’m not a bad loser”.
“If tomorrow they show precisely when their inspectors came to my restaurant, in what conditions and precisely why we don’t deserve a third star, I’ll accept it,” he said.
“As it is, all they’ve done is tell pork pies.”
The move drove his staff to tears and plunged him into a six-month depression, he added. “It’s awful. It’s worse than losing my parents, than anything.”
He had also insisted Michelin take him out of its next edition – a request it has denied.
The red guide hit back on the eve of the court battle, branding Mr Veyrat a "narcissistic diva" suffering from "pathological egotism”.
In court, their lawyer, Richard Malka, warned: “You are being asked quite simply to do away with the freedom to criticise”. Such a move would be tantamount to “abolishing a constitutional right”,” he said.
Michelin, he went on, was “an instrument for consumers, not the property of chefs”.
“We don’t even have the right to say he’s just excellent rather than amazing,” said Mr Malka.
If the court ruled in Mr Veyrat’s favour, he warned, “which critic – gastronomic, literary, film etc – will continue to dare to write without a trembling pen?”
“It’s a Pandora’s box.”
Mr Ravanas disagreed, saying that in common French law, “criticism is not entirely free”.
“You don’t have the right to write any old thing on the pretext of freedom of expression,” he said.
Mr Veyrat is demanding symbolic damages of one euro (£85p). Michelin has countersued for €30,000 in costs and compensation.
A ruling is due on December 31.
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