The 100th edition of the famed Michelin restaurant guide showered stars Monday on President Nicolas Sarkozy s favorite Parisian haunt and on British chef Gordon Ramsay s first French venture.
Only one restaurant joined Michelin s elite three-star club in the 2009 French edition of the guide, Eric Frechon s temple to traditional French gastronomy at Le Bristol hotel in Paris.
A stone s throw from the Elysee Palace, the restaurant is regularly visited by the French leader, who dined there in recent months with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Britain s ex-prime minister Tony Blair.
I thought I was ready, but the emotion has overcome me a little, the 45-year-old chef told AFP after receiving the culinary accolade.
It s extraordinary, it s a moment I ll never forget, said the chef, who serves up such delicacies as fatted chicken cooked with crayfish, offal and truffles to 45 tables per night.
Michelin s editor-in-chief Jean-Luc Naret brushed off suggestions that politics had played in Le Bristol s favor, but top French food writer Francois Simon said Sarkozy s patronage had weighed in.
It s the president s favorite table – so obviously no one was going to challenge their choice. It was a harmless candidate for three stars, said Simon, a vocal critic of the Michelin system.
He also sniffed at the decision to give two stars to Britain s Ramsay, whose Trianon eatery opened last year next to the Versailles Chateau, the latest addition to a global empire spanning from Tokyo to Dubai.
Ramsay and Frechon, he said, knew how to play the Michelin system but lacked the daring or inventiveness of the past masters of haute cuisine.
I had the same Gordon Ramsay meal in Tokyo, Prague and London: a mix of Italian, Thai and French: exactly what the Michelin likes, said Simon, who dismissed the Trianon when it opened as a brand with its label: Gordon Ramsayland.
But Ramsay, who is known for his foul-mouthed rants on television hits Hell s Kitchen and Ramsay s Kitchen Nightmares, claimed a triumph over the Paris food elite.
It is particularly satisfying after the rather hostile reception we had on opening and this is a real career high for me, the 42-year-old Scot said in a statement that proclaimed Ramsay triumphs in Paris.
With his restaurants now boasting a total of 12 stars, Ramsay is still some way behind his mentor Joel Robuchon on 25 and Alain Ducasse, whose Eiffel Tower eatery the Jules Verne, won its first star, taking his total to 19.
Le Trianon was one of nine restaurants to join the two-star club, while 63 received a first star.
Michelin s secretive 90-strong team of inspectors has a battalion of critics, who say the rigid star system has spawned a generation of copycat chefs, churning out the same fare around the world.
One chef awarded his first star, Cedric Bechade of the Auberge Basque, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, said he lobbied Michelin to be left out of the guide.
Now that he holds a star, the 32-year-old said the stress of holding on to it, or be seen as losing his edge, distracts us for two whole months from our core mission – the happiness of our guests.
But the Michelin has been the top food guide for more than a century.
The Michelin Red Guide began in 1900 as a way of promoting tires and guiding owners of the first motor cars to France s best restaurants.
No editions were published during the two world wars, although the 1939 guide was re-issued in 1944 for Allied officers fighting their way through German-occupied France from the Normandy beaches.
Monday s publication was the 100th edition of the French guide, while Michelin has spun-off versions in 23 countries selling 1.3 million copies every year.