A high-stakes food drama playing out in the French Alps might all boil down to the cheddar. Or lack thereof.

Renowned French chef Marc Veyrat on Tuesday announced he had sued the France-based Michelin Guide after the restaurant guidebook authority demoted his La Maison des Bois in Manigod, France, from three stars to two earlier this year. Veyrat claimed Michelin’s reviewer wrongly determined a cheese souffle as having cheddar in it; Veyrat said the color was from saffron used in the dish and is now seeking documentation from Michelin to explain its decision.

“They dared to say that we put cheddar in our souffle of reblochon, beaufort, and tomme,” Veyrat told French magazine Le Point in July. “They have insulted our region; my employees were furious."

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A court hearing is set for Nov. 27 in Nanterre, Agence France-Presse reports.

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Veyrat’s restaurant, roughly 100 miles east of Lyon, was first awarded the coveted three-star Michelin ranking in 2018. Much of the food in the $330-to-$430 tasting menu comes from the restaurant’s own botanic gardens and orchards.

The famed chef learned in January that his restaurant was losing a star just one year after it had achieved the three-star ranking — widely considered among the most prestigious distinctions in the fine-dining business.

“I’ve been in a depression for six months. How dare you take hostage the health of cooks?” Veyrat lamented during his July interview with Le Point, during which he blamed the “amateur” nature of the Michelin reviewers.

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“It scares me for the new generations to come. In fact, the only reason given was confusion over the Reblochon and Beaufort emulsion with cheddar,” he said. He went on to call the Michelin reviewers “impostors” who deliberately stir up fights for “commercial reasons.”

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Among Veyrat’s grievances is his belief that reviewers — in violation of Michelin’s own stated best practices — did not visit the restaurant multiple times. He’s demanding receipts from Michelin to prove that their independent, anonymous reviewers dined at La Maison des Bois more than once.

The receipts are among the records Veyrat’s lawsuit is hoping to compel from Michelin, his lawyer Emmanuel Ravanas told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

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“For decades, Veyrat has been used to having his cooking graded, evaluated and compared, and he knows quite well that you don’t own a star for life. He accepts it all, as long as the criticism is accurate,” Ravanas said.

In a statement, Michelin spokesman Jérôme Bourret said: “We understand the disappointment of Mr Veyrat, whose talent no one [contests], even if we regret his unreasonable persistence with his accusations. Our first duty is to tell consumers why we have changed our recommendation. We will carefully study his demands and respond calmly.”

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The annual Michelin “Red Guide” evaluates mostly fine dining restaurants in cities around the world and awards what it considers the very top-tier establishments with between one and three stars; there are just 27 three-star restaurants in France and fewer than 140 in the world. And among European diners, the rankings hold particular sway, said Helen Rosner, the roving food correspondent for the New Yorker.

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“The American relationship to Michelin stars is very different than the European and the Asian one in terms of the dining public: In Europe and Asia, three stars is the highest pinnacle a restaurant can receive,” Rosner explained. While she noted the same can be true for U.S.-based chefs, European diners have a 100-year history (and awareness of) the Michelin brand; Michelin didn’t publish its first American guide until 2005.

There are also economic and emotional considerations for chefs whose restaurants hit the coveted three-star mark.

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“For a restaurant to have three stars, it means they’re never going to have trouble filling seats; the gift of three stars is economic security. Even one star can be a make or break element for a young restaurant,” Rosner said. The downside is that some chefs can view stars as “an assessment of culinary and creative quality and that if you don’t have three stars, you’re not doing a good job.”

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The pressure on chefs to achieve and then maintain Michelin stars and other haute cuisine status can be intense. When award-winning French chef Bernard Loiseau killed himself in 2003, those close to him speculated that one factor was his fear over losing a Michelin star after being downgraded by another rating authority.

For as much as chefs covet Michelin stars, some have started to reject the recognition. Veyrat tried to “give back” his rating after he was downgraded this year (Michelin said it would still list his restaurant, though they can’t force chefs to acknowledge the honor).

William Wan contributed to this report.

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