ROME, Nov 27 (Life!) - One of Italy's greatest chefs has caused controversy in the culinary world by becoming the second of the nation's top cooks to give back his Michelin stars.
Ezio Santin, head chef at the award-winning Antica Osteria del Ponte outside Milan, said he no longer needed to rely on the famous stars in order to be successful.
"We get customers from all over the world and thanks to the internet we can continue to attract people," Santin told Reuters. Santin's announcement follows decision by fellow chef Gualtiero Marchesi to spurn the Michelin award last year.
Marchesi, the first to win three stars in Italy with his exclusive restaurant in the hills of Lombardy, complained that the guide favored French restaurants over Italian ones and publicly withdrew from participation.
Suggestions that the famous stars are losing their credibility were denied by Michelin, whose representative in Milan hit back at the "elderly" chefs who questioned the guide.
"They were excellent chefs but in Marchesi's restaurants in particular, the food is not what it once was," said Fausto Arrighi, director of the Michelin Red guide in Milan.
"They are elderly men by now and it is right that they should be thinking about retirement," he told Reuters.
Santin, who is 72, runs the restaurant with the help of his wife, Renata, who was quick to give a fiery response to implications that their days were numbered.
"When Ezio and I decide we want to close our restaurant, we will do so, but it will be our decision," she said by telephone from the Antica Osteria.
Husband and wife no longer want to slave away to meet the guide's secretive and very demanding requirements.
"After 33 years in the business, we're tired of having to please inspectors," Santin said.
The couple see the break from Michelin as an act of liberation and an opportunity for change.
"We want the freedom to cook what we like," Santin said. "After so many years, we want to get up in the morning and come up with new and exciting menus of the day."
"I am sure that we will continue to be challenged in new ways and be even better than before," she said.
Six Italian restaurants have been awarded three stars in this year's Michelin guide, compared to 11 in Tokyo, which sees the Japanese capital beat Paris as the city with the most three-star eateries.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)