A 32-year-old French chef who serves tea to match her Chinese-themed dishes won a precious star in the latest edition of France's prestigious Michelin restaurant guide released on Monday.
The honour for Adeline Grattard, 32, and Yam'Tcha, her small restaurant near Paris's Louvre museum, was a break from the norm for the 101-year-old guide, sometimes criticised as too traditional and out-of-touch.
AdvertisementGrattard attributes the success of the restaurant -- which opened just a year ago -- partly to her Chinese influences, which are less common in Paris than the Japanese or Thai fusion practiced by other French chefs.
Yam'Tcha serves dishes such as mushrooms and chestnuts accompanied by carefully chosen vintage Chinese teas, or suckling pig with aubergines set off by a spicy red Cotes du Rhone wine.
As rumours of her star circulated in the weeks before the guide's release, the chef told AFP that being a woman had also given her an edge among France's male-dominated kitchens.
"That has played a part. Not many women set up all by themselves," said Grattard, who previously worked for two years in Hong Kong where she lived with her Chinese husband.
"I saw and ate lots of things there. My chef encouraged me to bring back whatever I wanted from the market to try it out," she said.
The guide's editor-in-chief, Jean-Luc Naret, said he saw a brave new world taking shape as, in the wake of the economic crisis, young itinerant chefs like Grattard come home to France to roost.
"There has been a real explosion of young chefs who are setting the trend. They travel the world and come back with new cooking techniques," he told AFP ahead of Monday's release.
"There are more and more Japanese chefs in the kitchen in France and more and more women. The next few decades there will be more of a female influence, I hope."
Critics have accused the Michelin guide of a blinkered attitude to foreign-influenced cuisine in favour of traditional high-class fare.
"One day Michelin is going to have to explain why it does not open its eyes to gastronomic reality," wrote Francois Simon, the influential food critic for Le Figaro newspaper, earlier this month.
"It continues to push gastronomically correct cooking, sticking French cuisine in a genteel rut, underestimating the world of bistrots and letting itself be forever impressed by heavy, painstaking work," he wrote.
"The guide used to be a Bible -- now it is losing touch with food enthusiasts."
Its headline choices were more low-key, however, than last year, when it awarded three stars to a restaurant favoured by President Nicolas Sarkozy, at Paris's Le Bristol hotel, and two to British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
This time it crowned one new three-star restaurant: L'Auberge du Vieux Puits, a traditional eatery that opened in 1992 in Fontjoncouse, a remote village in southwestern France near the Mediterranean coast.
There are only 26 three-star restaurants in France.
The 2010 guide gave 10 restaurants two stars -- itself quite an honour, as this brought the number of two-star eateries up to only 77 across France -- and 47 won one star, bringing the number to 455.
Naret said that in the wake of the economic downturn the cooking world on the whole was "getting back to its roots," focussing on local seasonal produce after years of globalised extravagance.
"Thanks to the crisis, a lot of restaurants are also going to have to reinvent their style of cuisine," he told AFP.
"Chefs are going back to grandma's recipes with new techniques and regional produce that is more affordable and unfussy."
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