Michelin Chef Says Non! to Relentless Competition

I was inspired by the news of the Michelin chef who has asked to be removed from the prestigious ratings system:

“One of France’s most celebrated chefs, whose restaurant has been honoured with three stars in the Michelin guide for almost 20 years, has pleaded to be stripped of the prestigious ranking because of the huge pressure of being judged on every dish he serves.

“Sébastien Bras, 46, who runs the acclaimed Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole where diners look over sweeping views of the Aubrac plateau in the Aveyron while tasting local produce, announced on Wednesday that he wanted to be dropped from the rankings of France’s gastronomic bible.

“Michelin said it was the first time a French chef had asked to be dropped from its restaurant guide in this way, without a major change of positioning or business model.

“Bras said he wanted to be allowed to cook excellent food away from the frenzy of star ratings and the anxiety over Michelin’s anonymous food judges, who could arrive at his restaurant at any moment.”

As someone whose Facebook friends were once amazed by a picture of her cooking with two burners at once, I can’t even imagine what it takes to run a Michelin level kitchen. But the pressure must be astounding. Kudos to Bras for getting off the treadmill.

One of the worst things about perfectionism is that it severely overvalues (a) product over process, and (b) external recognition and rewards. The Michelin system seems to take all that to an extreme. And, make no mistake, perfectionism can kill:

“Bras said that like all chefs he sometimes found himself thinking of Bernard Loiseau, the acclaimed French chef who killed himself in 2003, an act widely seen as linked to rumours that he would lose his third Michelin star.”

Happily, Bras isn’t alone in saying non! to perfectionism:

“Bras is one of only 27 French chefs who hold top rankings in the Michelin restaurant guide. He is not the first chef to walk away from the competitive world of Michelin-star cooking. However, others have only done so as part of a closure or a radical change to their restaurants.

“In 2005, Paris restaurateur Alain Senderens – one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine – shocked the culinary world by giving back his three stars, claiming that diners were turned off by excessive luxury. He later reopened the restaurant under another name, with a simpler menu at a fraction of his old prices.

“In 2008, three-star chef Olivier Roellinger closed his luxury restaurant in the Breton fishing village of Cancale, saying he wanted a quieter life.”

If ambitious chefs in very public roles can say non! to competition and perfectionism, then let’s all try to follow their example!

Have you or anyone you know opted out of a tough competition? Were you / they happier for it? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

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