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Michelin Guide Crowns Another Three-Star Restaurant in Paris

Posted: February 29, 2000

Guy Martin is racking up awards. The 43-year-old chef at Paris' famed Le Grand Vefour restaurant was named 1999's chef of the year by France's Gault Millau dining and travel guide, and he received the highest rating possible from two other important French guides, Champerret and Bottin.

But these culinary prizes pale beside the one he picked up on Feb. 29: a third star, signalling "exceptional cuisine, worth a journey," in the gastronomic bible -- the Michelin guide. "This is the ultimate, like winning the Olympic gold medal," Martin told Wine Spectator.

The Michelin "red guide" is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and is printing an astounding 800,000 copies, about 250,000 more than usual, to celebrate. Michelin is a conservative institution that gives and takes away its celebrated stars with parsimony and has won a reputation for honesty and integrity. Unlike many gastronomic critics, its anonymous inspectors always pay for their meals and may not give interviews or be photographed.

But in recent years, some say, the guide has seemed to stagnate, reacting slowly to many culinary trends and overemphasizing luxury decor and expensive ingredients such as truffles and lobster. Some chefs have gotten fed up. In London, two of the most famous British cooks, Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White -- both three-star winners -- asked to be removed from the guide.

Michelin has taken these complaints to heart, at least a little. For the first time, the French guide includes pithy descriptions of all the restaurants and hotels listed in its voluminous 1,700 pages, about 250 more than usual. "We want to keep up with the times," said Michelin editor-in-chief Bernard Naegellen. "Our readers were telling us that the guide was becoming too dry."

But Naegellen insists that he will not compromise on standards. Martin's Grand Vefour was the only new three-star winner in France and only the 22nd in the entire country. (Seven of these are now in Paris.) The guide upgraded only four restaurants from one star to two (described as "excellent cooking, worth a detour"), including the Regence at the Hotel Plaza-Athinie in Paris. Five restaurants were demoted from two stars to one, including the Ritz Hotel's Espadon in Paris. The former two-star Jean Bardet restaurant and hotel in Tours has been removed from the guide.

All told, Naegellen took away 32 stars and awarded 36 new ones. "There is a slight uptick in the atmosphere, and that is reflected in the awards," said Naegellen. "The recession is over in France, clients are coming back into restaurants, and chefs are reinvesting."

For chefs, the Michelin can be a make-or-break affair. Although chefs say business may rise as much as 30 percent after winning a third star, the real recompense for Martin is prestige rather than money. Le Grand Vefour -- owned by the Sociiti du Louvre, makers of Tattinger Champagne -- was already doing well financially and required about three weeks' advance notice for a dinner reservation. "This isn't about money; it's about recognizing years of work," Martin said.

The restaurant sits under the elegant arcades of the Palais-Royal, in the heart of the Right Bank. Completed in 1784, its two dining rooms shine with crimson velvet banquettes, gilded mirrors and romantic paintings. The restaurant won three stars under former chef Raymond Oliver but was downgraded to two after he retired, in 1980. Martin arrived in 1991, a veteran of the mountainous Savoy region, where he ran a two-star Michelin restaurant, Chbteau de Divonne in Divonne-les-Bains.

Martin first made his name with an emphasis on Alpine flavors, such as an appetizer of melting Beaufort cheese and artichoke. But in recent years, Martin said, he has lightened his cooking and become a bit more exotic with his ingredients. Signature dishes include foie gras in truffle juice, a confit of Bresse chicken with garnishes of mint and cucumber and a dessert combining mango and litchi in a coconut cookie covered with vanilla.

Martin promises to change nothing after winning his third star -- not even his $60 four-course lunch menu, which is one of France's best bargains. Dinner costs at least double that per person, with wine. In recent years, Martin said, the restaurant has made big efforts to improve the wine list. The cellar now has 60,000 bottles, up 15,000 bottles from two years ago. The restaurant not only offers recent vintages of top Bordeaux, particularly Mouton-Rothschild and Yquem, but also a broad choice of country wines, most at less than $50 a bottle.

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Read more about Guy Martin and Grand Vefour:

  • Oct. 15, 1998
    Past is Prologue: Le Grand Vefour

    Read past news reports about the Michelin ratings:

  • March 1, 1999
    New Michelin Guide Adds One New Three-Star Restaurant

  • Feb. 20, 1999
    Second Swiss Restaurant Earns Top Michelin Rating

  • Nov. 30, 1996
    The Stars of French Cuisine

  • Nov. 30, 1996
    Rating the Michelin Three-Star Restaurants

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