The Michelin lash-back continues as acclaimed Almancil chef Henrique Leis became the first in Portugal to hand back his star after 19 years.
Público wrote that this is the first time “in the history of Portuguese restaurants that a chef has returned his Michelin star”. The Brazilian born chef claimed that it was not a rash decision that made hime do it but something he had been thinking about for a very long time.
“This decision comes from many years of thinking”, he told the paper.
Leis claims that his decision was to “regain freedom” and he told reporters that of the Miichelin Guide, “Only four or five of the critics are serious, with good criteria”, adding that “the majority” are led by fashion and lobbies, and essentially “have no knowledge” of what is really good cuisine.
The chef claims that freedom in his kitchen means giving his daughters and partners the space in the kitchen to discover their own brand of gastronomy without the added pressure of maintaining a Michelin star. We asked Chef Henrique Leis about his decision to hand back his Michelin star after 19 years.
Why are so many top chefs turning their backs to the Michelin Guide ?
Each chef has their own reason but I believe that, in general, part is because of the stress and pressure it brings. Although it gives a lot of prestige, notability and possibilities to a restaurant, it is also a big responsibility and the margin of error has to be close to zero. There is always a lot of stress in a kitchen of this type due to that need of always achieving that perfection.
Is the Michelin Guide system outdated ?
Not at all, I believe that the Michelin Guide has always been very fair in their evaluation and still remains that way until today. The amount of restaurants has brutally increased and for them to keep their prestige it can only continue that way. There is a reason for why it is the most important and recognized award for a restaurant to receive.
You said that you want to “regain freedom” by handing back the star. What does freedom mean to you ?
As said before, having this kind of pressure all the time is a big responsibility. Restaurante Henrique Leis has been maintaining its Michelin star for 19 years and 19 years is a very long time. When I received the Michelin star back in 2000 the plan was to maintain it for 5 years. Then those 5 years arrived and I though let’s work to maintain for more 5 years and its been 19 years and I have decided that it is the right time to hand it in so I can be more free live a more peaceful and healthier lifestyle and I will dedicate more of my time to new creationists which with the Michelin Star didn’t really allow me much time to research and discover new flavors as I always have to be present in the restaurante and the constante pressure of been evaluated by an inspector at any time really takes up your energy. At the moment I would also really like to explore and incorporate more Portuguese traditional products and dishes and help modernize it, handing in the star will definitely give me more time to research and give me more freedom to create. Restaurante Henrique Leis will maintain the same standards of service and the same quality of food. Me and my my team will work and dedicate as we have always been doing to try to improve even more and to give the best experience to are clientes.
While it is the first time in Portugal that chef has handed back his Michelin star and the acversion to the restaurant ranking system seems to be growing. Recently Marc Veyrat, the chef at La Maison des Bois in Manigod (Haute-Savoie, France), demanded that Michelin take back two stars from his restaurant.
The French chef had lost one of his three stars and had suffered depression as a result.
Marc Veyrat denounced "the deep incompetence" of inspectors and the Michelin guide in general, recalling some false claims according to him: "They dared to say that we put cheddar in our soufflé of reblochon, Beaufort and tomme! They have insulted our region, my employees were furious! ... "When we have eggs from our chickens, milk from our cows, and two botanists collect our plants every morning!", he recalled.
Marco Pierre White famously returned his three Michelin stars and has been a vocal critic of the guide for years.
Michelin has not commented on Leis’ decision but the chef seemed to rail against the pressure that the accolade puts on chefs’ shoulders.
“Today, when a chef does something new, within a month everyone is doing it…” Leis explained. “It’s scary, the speed with which we fall into the abyss”.