Travel through Burgundy and you’ll be greeted with verdant rolling vineyards, stately chateaus, 13th-century churches, and charming hilltop villages. Not so much in Montceau-les-Mines. This old mining town was never much of a looker; coming of age in the heyday of coal, it’s a working-class locale with the architecture to match. But since 2005, the fading municipality did have one trapping of luxury, a gleaming Michelin-starred restaurant, Le France, run by 46-year-old chef, Jérôme Brochot. Now, they don’t even have that.
Brochot has written to the French-tire-manufacturer-turned-culinary-kingmaker to tell the august guidebook he no longer wanted a coveted Michelin star, according to the New York Times. Not because of pressures to maintain an excellent level of service and food, not because of a rejection of the values codified by the star system, and not because he intended to close the restaurant. He’s returning the star because he feels he and his struggling coal town can no longer afford Michelin-level dining.
“The economic situation here in the ex-mining basin is a disaster,” Brochot wrote to Michelin about his home that is currently experiencing 21 percent unemployment. “What I’m doing today, I’m not doing lightly, but because I have no other choice.”
Until he made the decision to return the star, Brochot served a $130 tasting menu and needed at least 60 diners a night to be viable. But at the end of the day, he’d find himself throwing out expensive fish that no one had come in to eat. He’s had to cut his staff, but has also cut his prices, leading to more people coming through the doors to eat cod instead of turbot.
But can you really give back a star? Some make a show of giving them back, like Marco Pierre White, the youngest chef to ever be given three, who famously renounced his stars back in the 1990s. Others just decide they’re going to change how they operate knowing full well they’ll lose it if they go in a more casual direction, like Turners at 69 in Birmingham, England, did this past year.
However, no matter what public statements its chef has made, that restaurant will remain noted in that year’s guide. As Michael Ellis, Michelin’s international director, told Vanity Fair in 2015, you can’t actually return a Michelin star. “Stars are not given to a chef. It’s not like an Oscar—It’s not a physical thing, it’s a recognition,” he says. “You can’t give it back.”