The much-publicised case between chef Marc Veyrat and the Michelin Guide finally reached the courts yesterday and it was the Michelin Guide that drew first blood.
The case, which has been dubbed ‘Cheddargate’ by the media, shook the world of gastronomy this year when chef Marc Veyrat announced that he would be suing the Michelin Guide.
The chef claims that when his restaurant La Maison des Bois, lost a Michelin star, dropping to just two he suffered a deep depression that nearly 'broke him'. Veyrat claims that an "incompetent" Michelin inspector mistakenly thought he had modified a soufflé by using English cheddar cheese instead of using French Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme varieties.
"That they said that my soufflé was full of cheddar," he said. "The fact that they took 'my virtual scallops' to be real coquilles Saint-Jacques when they were made from a base of burbot (fish) livers from Lake Geneva shows a lack of competence," Veyrat said.
On the eve of the court case in Paris, Michelin hit back branding Veyrat a "narcissistic diva" suffering from "pathological egotism”. Michelin’s lawyers were withering in response, calling the case "grotesque".
"The court is not there to protect men's vanity," barrister Richard Malka told Afp.
Malka said the case flies in the face of reason and basic constitutional right of freedom of expression.
"Mr Veyrat wants France to abandon the principle that restaurant critics should have the freedom to have an opinion because his restaurant has two stars rather than three – because La Maison des Bois was judged to be just excellent rather than brilliant," he added.
Veyrat is demanding that Michelin release to him documentation pertaining to the judgement of his restaurant. If he wins it could send shockwaves through the world of fine dining as the criteria and processes for gaining stars would be open for all to see.
The chef is suing for a symbolic compensation of €1, while Michelin is counter-suing for €30,000 in damages.
Veyrat's lawyer Emmanuel Ravanas said that the case was far from an abuse of the legal system.
"For decades Marc Veyrat has been used to his cooking being judged and compared and he knows that no one has (Michelin) stars for life," said Ravanas, adding that all depended on the criticism being "rigorous".
Michelin is notoriously secretive about how it judges restaurants and closely guards the identity of its inspectors. There many chefs who have been kept awake at night by the lack of transparency in the Michelin star process. So while this case may seem like a clash of egos, there is far more at stake.