Gordon Ramsay weathered the disdain of French critics today, emerging as one of the winners in the 100th edition of the Michelin Red Guide, the bible of gastronomy.
Ramsay, 42, was given two stars for his first French restaurant, Gordon Ramsay au Trianon, at Versailles, which opened a year ago. This makes him the first British chef to be awarded deux macarons on Michelin's home soil in the 109 years since the guide was first published.
Ramsay, who already has 10 Michelin stars, said: "It is particularly satisfying after the rather hostile reception we had on opening, and this is a real career high for me."
In its centenary edition – delayed by the guide's suspension during the two world wars – Michelin promoted only one chef from two to the three-star rank held by 26 establishments. The lucky man was Eric Fréchon, 45, chef at Le Bristol, a luxury hotel opposite the Elysée Palace. President Sarkozy has entertained overseas guests at Le Bristol since he became Interior Minister in 2002.
Critics welcomed the promotion for Le Bristol, though François Simon, the waspish and powerful critic for Le Figaro, dismissed it as a publicity stunt. Too expensive and too fussy was Mr Simon's verdict on Mr Fréchon's classical Normandy-accented cuisine – which cost him €533 for two. “No one will ask whether this promotion is deserved or not. It is all part of Michelin’s clever marketing, because this is the President’s favourite place to eat," Mr Simon said.
He added that lovers of good cuisine would be startled to see Mr Ramsey's two stars, "which thus place the stereotypical cooking of a knowledgable Briton – not bad, but old hat – on a par with the dishes of auteurs such as Jean-Luc Rabanel at Arles."
Among the nine restaurants to graduate to two stars were La Mère Brazier, a Lyon institution which had recently fallen out of favour. Its late founder, Eugénie Brazier, was one of the first to win three stars when Michelin created the rankings in 1933. One of the new single stars went to Le Jules Verne, the restaurant on the Eiffel Tower that was taken over two years ago by Alain Ducasse. Mr Ducasse now has 19 stars, second only to the 25 held by restaurants run by Joël Robuchon.
Michelin is using its anniversary to bolster its image in the face of charges over the past decade that it is a fussy institution that is out of touch with modern taste and rewards "museum-cuisine". Marc Veyrat, a celebrity chef from the Alps, last week became the latest in a series to hand in his Michelin stars because he was exhausted keeping up with its inspectors' demanding standards.
One newly decorated chef, 32-year-old Cédric Béchade, said that he had asked Michelin's reviewers to leave his Auberge Basque restaurant in the Pyrenees out of the 2009 guide for France, but "they did not respect my wishes".
Jean-Luc Naret, the publishing director, noted that the 2,000-page Red Guide sells 1.3 million copies a year worldwide. In France it sold 370,000 in 2008 – ten times more than its nearest competitor, the Gault Millau guide. "We have no competitor in France or internationally," he said.
The Michelin may be austere – it contains no pictures – but it is moving with the times: the Red Guide will soon be able to point hungry gourmands with GPS-equipped telephones to the nearest Michelin eateries.
In keeping with the shift to simpler, cheaper fare, the guide has sharply increased the number of bistros and other more modest establishments which qualify for its "bib" rating.
The 100th edition coincides with a counter-offensive by France to promote its cuisine internationally. President Sarkozy has asked Unesco, the UN's cultural arm, to declare French cuisine part of the world's heritage.