Michelin unveils Covid-era France picks despite criticism

Olga NEDBAEVA
·2-min read

The Michelin Guide reveals Monday its annual pick of France's top restaurants despite criticism over its decision to hold the awards while establishments remain closed in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Three-star chefs can rest easy, however, after Michelin said none will be demoted as the health crisis rages.

The industry bible's boss Gwendal Poullennec defended inspections that led to 57 new stars overall, even though restaurants remain shuttered after lockdowns imposed last spring and again since October.

"It's an important decision to support the industry, despite the current situation and perhaps even because of the situation," Poullennec told AFP.

"All the establishments that have kept their star this year or won one are restaurants that fully deserve it," he said.

Michelin has drawn fire for bestowing its verdicts as chefs rack up losses while adapting their menus for takeaway or deliveries -- and food fans have little chance of booking tables anytime soon, with or without face masks.

The rival Best 50 list, based in Britain, cancelled its 2020 ranking last year, while France's La Liste said this month that instead of rankings it would honour innovative chefs who have persevered amid the pandemic.

Michelin called off the lavish gala ceremony that was to be held in Cognac, southwest France -- the first time outside Paris -- and instead will announce the 2021 winners in a YouTube broadcast from the Eiffel Tower.

- 'Consistent quality' -

But Poullennec said all three-star restaurants will keep their stars -- France including Monaco counts 29 -- while the handful of demotions will affect only restaurants that have closed or changed their dining concept.

He insisted that inspectors worked double duty and even cancelled their sacrosanct summer holidays to eat and drink as much as possible when restaurants were allowed to open under strict virus restrictions between France's lockdowns.

Michelin also brought in inspectors from elsewhere in Europe and even Asia to back up the French team.

"This selection has been made with the same serious attention, and inspectors were able to judge as many meals as the previous year," he said.

"Despite the difficulties, chefs have risen to the occasion and maintained consistent quality, at times even succeeding in making further progress," he added.

Poullennec, who took over the guide in 2018, has overseen several choices that have raised eyebrows among chefs and foodies alike.

Last year Michelin shocked industry insiders by downgrading the Auberge du Pont de Collonges -- the oldest three-starred restaurant in the world -- after the death of its legendary chef Paul Bocuse.

And in January 2019, Marc Veyrat became the first chef to sue the famous red guidebook after it withdrew the third star for his French Alps restaurant La Maison des Bois just a year after it was awarded.

Veyrat, who lost his case, has said he never wants to see a Michelin inspector in any of his restaurants ever again.

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