French chef Roellinger gives up his three Michelin stars

CANCALE, France (Reuters Life!) - French chef Olivier Roellinger is handing back the three Michelin stars awarded to his restaurant Le Relais Gourmand on France’s Brittany coast and closing up shop this week, hoping for an easier life.

Three Michelin stars rated French chefs Frederic Anton of Pre Catelan (C) and Olivier Roellinger of Maison de Bricourt stand next to the Michelin mascot Bibendum, at a party for the publication of "Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008" in Tokyo November 19, 2007. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

After 24 years in the Michelin guidebook, Roellinger, 53, said problems with his leg meant he could no longer be on his feet all day, running his restaurant that boasts the top Michelin rating after starting as a guest house and restaurant in 1982.

His skilful marriage of local seafood -- with the area well known for its oysters -- and South Asian spices, earned the restaurant a Michelin star in 1984 and a second in 1988.

“We obtained the third star in 2006, which was marvelously satisfying. I was 50 years old, and already had physical problems, a leg problem, and I that I wasn’t going to be able to continue for very long,” he told Reuters Television.

“But I said to myself, I need to hang on for at least three years. I held on for three years, and today, it would not be reasonable for me to continue to cook, to be on my feet in front of my piano, so to speak, for close to eight hours a day.”

Roellinger, who closes Le Relais Gourmand on December 15, said his physical problems stemmed from an attack in Cancale in 1976 by a gang of youths who beat him with iron bars and left him for dead.

He spent the following two years recovering then launched a career as a chef, becoming the only chef to run a restaurant in Brittany with three Michelin stars.

The Relais Gourmand will close, but Roellinger and his wife Jane will continue to operate other eateries and shops that are part of their Maisons de Bricourt company, such as the bistro restaurant Le Coquillage which includes a cooking school, spice shop, bed-and-breakfast, and a bakery.

Diner Katrine Bienvenu who traveled nearly 400 kms (250 miles) from Paris for her last meal at Relais Gourmand, said the closure was sad but it was not the end.

“We know that we will share other moments in other circumstances. We can take cooking courses with him, or share in his passion for spices, or just come to Cancale,” she said.

Roellinger is the fourth three-star Michelin chef in France to renounce his stars, following Joel Robuchon, Alain Senderens and Antoine Westermann.

This has sparked talk that the excessive pressure of measuring up to Michelinstandards is forcing some great chefs out of their kitchens.

“I believe that Roellinger is giving up his three stars because he is tired. Tired of the high level, tired of being like a high-performance athlete, tired of putting himself on the line twice a day,” said EmmanuelRubin, a French food critic and author of culinary guide books.

“Running a three-star Michelin restaurant is like scoring 20 out of 20. That means perfection, more than perfection. It is obvious that in order to maintain that level of perfection, you need to have huge talent and above all, an enormous capacity for work.”

Roellinger said he was not comfortable with the idea of being responsible for serving three-star cuisine but letting someone else do the work.

“It would make me feel dishonest,” he said, adding that his personal life had also suffered over the years.

“I have never been at a family dinner, I missed my kids’ first communion ceremonies ... I was in front of my stove, and not with my family. I owe it to myself to close the restaurant.”

Reporting by Reuters Television, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith