BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, France (AP) — A record 28 French restaurants were honored with the gastronomic world's most coveted prize Monday: a three-star rating in the Michelin Red Guide.
The unveiling of the industry's most closely guarded secret near Paris came amid great fanfare for French food — but also amid criticism that the elite index system needs rethinking after a top chef withdrew from the list citing the "huge pressure" and unwelcome scrutiny it brings.
The two new additions to the three-star club were Christophe Bacquie at the Castellet hotel and Marc Veyrat's La Maison des Bois, both in southern France. They cement France's place as the premier dining hub with the highest number of top-scoring restaurants in the world.
"It was a great year for gastronomy ... a huge win for Team France," Michelin Guides director Michael Ellis said.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe attended an event at the Seine Musicale convention center after the ceremony, underlining the importance of the book known as the food bible to France's national identity.
Michelin France is considered the most prestigious of the publication's 31 global editions by the fine food establishment.
But although the guide is famed for making the fortunes of chefs, it's equally famous for breaking them with its system of rating top restaurants with one to three stars.
Michelin has defended itself over persistent claims that its stars reward pomp and presentation instead of food and that it brings unbearable scrutiny to its laureates.
One of the winners — Veyrat — doesn't seem to mind.
"We need the pressure and adrenaline because we are creatives. We love creativity and we are a little mad," he told The Associated Press.
Last week, Michelin's reputation was tarnished when the three-star Le Suquet restaurant was withdrawn at the request of its owner, Sebastien Bras, who complained about inhuman stress levels linked to the accolade, such as the possibility of anonymous experts eating a meal unannounced at any given moment. Bras' move prompted widespread questions in the media over the usefulness of the index.
It's not the first time Michelin's rating system has been criticized.
In 2005, after 28 years, Alain Senderens transformed his three-star restaurant, the Lucas Carton, into a humble brasserie, saying he had had enough of the "senseless race" of the classifications.
Two years earlier, the owner of the famed Cote d'Or restaurant in Burgundy, Bernard Loiseau, fatally shot himself after receiving a lower rating in the GaultMillau guide amid rumors he might lose his third Michelin star.
France's seriousness when it comes to good eating is a thing of legend. One of France's most famous chefs from the 17th century, Francois Vatel, killed himself because the day's delivery of fresh fish did not arrive on time at a banquet he was preparing in honor of King Louis XIV.
Of the 28 three-star Michelin restaurants, only one is run by a woman: Anne-Sophie Pic, who officiated at the Michelin ceremony Monday.
She expressed optimism about the treatment of women in the famously male-dominated culinary world.
"I believe the female chefs are coming. ... They are already present in the restaurants, and the teams are mixed. The women chefs are very active and present in gastronomy," Pic said.
"That said," she added, hesitating, "maybe we need a bit more time for them to be recognized and to find their (rightful) place."
Thomas Adamson on Twitter: Twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K