The court battle between French chef Marc Veyrat and the Michelin Guide, known as ‘Cheddar Gate’ and which held the culinary world enthralled last year reached its conclusion on the last day of 2019.
Veyrat took the Michelin Guide to court over the downgrading of his restaurant Maison des Boise from three stars to two in the 2019 France edition. The chef claimed that the Michelin inspectors had unfairly penalised his restaurant based on the “profoundly offensive” suggestion that he had used the English cheddar in one of his signature soufflé dishes.
Claiming that he only heard of his restaurant’s star loss when the guide was published at the beginning of last year, the chef says he fell into a ‘deep depression’ that lasted months and his kitchen staff were reduced to tears.
The chef told France 2 television that losing the star was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. “It’s worse than the loss of my parents," he said. "Worse than anything”.
A French court dismissed Veyrat’s case on December 31st claiming that the chef had supplied not “a single piece of evidence” to show any real harm or damage caused to the restaurant.
Veyrat was suing for a nominal sum of damages of €1, but more importantly, he was requesting that the Michelin Guide turn over their notes on his restaurant in order to see exactly what the downgrade was based on.
The Michelin Guide was countersuing for €30,000 in costs in an effort to protect their closely guarded assessment procedures.
“The court is not there to protect men’s vanity,” the guide’s barrister, Richard Malka, said at the opening of the legal case. Malka said Veyrat’s lawsuit flew in the face of reason and basic constitutional rights 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 is judged to be just excellent rather than brilliant,” Malka told AFP.
Veyrat's lawyer, Emmanuel Ravanas, said the chef was not seeking to ban criticism. “We just want to verify the criteria that exist and how they are applied,” he told the court hearing.
It would seem that the chef was unable to prove that his reputation had suffered from losing a Michelin star. In fact, Veyrat admitted business at La Maison des Bois – where the dégustation menus cost €295 or €395 – was booming. “I don’t really need them,” he said of the guide, adding: “At this rate, I wish they’d take away all my stars.”
While the whole episode generated much interest around the world, it seems to have concluded in a way that would suit all parties. Veyrat, whose reputation, if anything, has been burnished by the affair, with Gault & Millau guide named Veyrat an "immortal" of French haute cuisine and his restaurant business thriving. If anything, Veyrat has gained much more PR value than the costs and damages awarded to the Michelin Guide.
The Michelin Guide, gets to keep its secrets safe.