Honestly, it makes no sense why a company best known for manufacturing tires is such an important voice in the world of fine dining, but Michelin has embraced its gastronomic role with gusto for more than a century.
Now, it turns out that one of its most-decorated chefs isn’t feeling that gusto himself. Sébastien Bras, a French chef whose restaurant Le Suquet has been a three-star mainstay of the Michelin guide for close to two decades, made the first-ever request to be removed from the guide without a significant change to his model. The reason, essentially, is that the pressure of perfection that the high rating afforded his restaurant was stifling, due to the pressure that the rating put on his work—knowing that judges were coming in somewhat frequently, and that if a meal didn’t meet an extremely high standard, it could cost him a star.
“You’re inspected two or three times a year, you never know when. Every meal that goes out could be inspected. That means that, every day, one of the 500 meals that leaves the kitchen could be judged,” Bras said, according to The Guardian.
(A member of Michelin’s executive committee has said it noted the request, but said the removal of the restaurant would not be automatic.)
This is a tightrope every creative person walks. Perhaps we don’t have a tire company’s secretive reviewers coming in to critique our meals, but we all have our critics, the people looking over our shoulders skeptically, criticizing or praising what we feel is great work.
Now, to be fair, some of this may be desired, even wanted. But there’s a point when you reach a certain level of success where it all feels overwhelming if you don’t have the right tools for it, or if the criticism is too strong.
Sure, interest is good. But if you’re creating at a point where the response to your work overwhelms the creative process, good or bad, it can suddenly feel like a threat. Sébastien Bras is just like everyone else in a way—he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed by a critic just because they like what he does—or vice versa.
I think in a lot of ways, I cover people like this all the time on Tedium—bedroom creators who got lucky, people who saw way too much success too fast or were forgotten in their time, people who aimed high but didn’t take over the world, people who made their money on one thing but their name on another, and those who simply want to be left alone in obscurity. I respect and appreciate those that choose to walk away creatively.
I hope that the Michelin folks have some serious conversations about what their book represents to the chefs that fill up its pages, for good and bad. A review can be a life-changing experience, certainly, but to me, this tale suggests too much concentrated power.
A chef should have the right to walk away from his own success if he so chooses.