Roellinger Quits the Michelin Star Wars

Another French chef drops out after reaching the top.
La Maison du Bricourt food

When Olivier Roellinger announced recently that he planned to close La Maison du Bricourt, his three-star restaurant in Brittany, on December 15, it made the front page of Le Figaro and left the world of Gallic gastronomy in a state of shock. With the glory of winning France’s ultimate culinary laurels still so fresh—after cooking for 26 years, Roellinger finally won his third star in 2006—how could he be ready to give it all up so soon? In doing so, he becomes the third chef— after Alain Senderens (in 2005) and Joël Robuchon (in 1996)—to leave Michelin behind at the pinnacle of success.

“Running a three-star restaurant is an honor, but it brings on terrible stress. It is passionate but exhausting,” Roellinger told me. “I am no longer physically able to manage two services a day, and as much as I respect the chefs who work with me, my relationship with the restaurant is too intimate for me to turn it over to anyone else.” Taking his inspiration from Robuchon and Senderens, Roellinger intends to continue cooking but in the more relaxed setting of his charming Le Coquillage restaurant, also in Cancale. “We’ll add three classics from La Maison de Bricourt, and occasionally I will do something special,” he said.

During a year when more than 3,000 restaurants have already filed for bankruptcy in France and restaurant revenue is down by 30 percent, La Maison de Bricourt was one of the rare three-stars in provincial France to avoid financial problems, which makes Roellinger’s polite rebuke of Michelin all the more stunning. As François Regis Gaudry, food critic of L’Express, told me, “The post-World War II French food chain is in complete flux. The old model of climbing the pyramid over the course of your career and struggling for every star until you get to the top doesn’t appeal to young chefs today. Not only are the fancy trappings required of a three-star restaurant too expensive now but probably irrelevant as well. In the future, what will really matter in judging a restaurant is what should have mattered all along—the food.” The trend away from Michelin, he notes, was already underway during the last recession in France, when talented young chefs like Yves Camdeborde chose the bistro instead of the white-tablecloth restaurant as the launching pad for their careers. Roellinger has simply made the future of French cuisine all the more obvious.

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