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Michelin on a Budget?

March 05, 1997|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG

The big news from the Paris offices of the Guide Michelin: Alain Ducasse gained five stars but fell short of his goal to become the first chef to win three stars for two restaurants (See "5 Stars Go to Ducasse"). But this year's guide was also notable for its accent on thrift. A new symbol--the head of Bibendum, the Michelin mascot--was added to denote restaurants offering an "exceptional quality/price ratio," usually regional specialties for an average of 100 to 130 francs ($17.75 to $23) a meal.

Critics have blamed Michelin for pushing star-mad chefs on spending sprees that led some to build non-food luxuries including pools and helipads. But in a clear message to readers and the trade alike that food, in the final analysis, is what matters to its inspectors, Michelin also awarded two stars to Regis Marcon, a respected cook who stubbornly refuses to leave his isolated hamlet of 180 inhabitants in the Haute-Loire department, and to Jacques Maximin, one of the highest-flying chefs of the last decade who now more soberly dishes out 240-franc ($42.50) prix fixe meals from his house in Vence on the French Riviera.

"In this way, the Michelin Guide is saying to good cooks, do things simply and you can earn two stars, even if you don't have a luxurious setting," Alexandre Lazareff, co-founder of the National Council of Culinary Arts, a French government agency, commented.

Simultaneously, however, the 1997 guide reaffirms the supreme ratings of all restaurants, save Ducasse's Louis XV in Monaco, which was demoted from three stars to two even as its chef was awarded three stars for his Paris restaurant at Le Parc Hotel. "Michelin has exceptional stability," said Lazareff. "It's not a yo-yo."

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