Japanese chef wins first ever three-star rating in France

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[January 28, 2020]  By Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) - The French edition of the Michelin Guide, the bible of gastronomy, for the first time in its history awarded the highest rating of three stars to a Japanese-born chef.

The accolade, unveiled at a ceremony in Paris on Monday evening, went to chef Kei Kobayashi who, according to the guide, "is a virtuoso at marrying flavors and always spot-on with his conception of the dish."

Japan has several dozen restaurants with Michelin stars, but Kobayashi is the first chef from Japan to be awarded the recognition for a restaurant in France, a country seen by some as the touchstone of fine dining.

Kobayashi was born in Japan's Nagano province where his father was a chef in a traditional Japanese restaurant.

After being inspired, according to the Michelin guide's biography of the chef, by watching a documentary on French cooking, he moved to France and trained under three-star chefs Gilles Goujon and Alain Ducasse.

He set up his Kei restaurant in the French capital nine years ago, and in the years since accumulated first one and then two Michelin stars, before achieving the highest accolade.

"How do you achieve it?," he said after being presented at Monday's ceremony with a chef's white tunic with three stars embroidered onto the left breast.

"You need to progress, you need to reach new levels, that's what it is. You need to look for great products and so on," he said. "So you need emotion, you need to share the pleasure with the team."

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Newly awarded three-star Michelin chef Kei Kobayashi of Kei restaurant reacts on stage next to Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of Michelin Guides, during the Michelin Guide 2020 award ceremony in Paris, France, January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The guide said its reviewers were bowled over in particular by one of the dishes Kobayashi serves at his restaurant: a garden of crunchy vegetables, Scottish smoked salmon, a rocket foam and a lemon emulsion.

Kobayashi was one of three first-time recipients of three stars in the French 2020 edition of the guide, while there were 11 new holders of two stars and 49 newly-minted one-star restaurants.

The guide, which was first published in 1900, has been seeking to embrace innovative chefs, with a particular emphasis on sustainable cooking.

But that has irked some in the old guard of French cuisine, who accuse the guide of putting novelty before quality.

French celebrity chef Marc Veyrat sued the guide after it removed one of his restaurant's stars, saying the downgrade was unfounded and tipped him into depression. He lost the court case.

(Reporting by Lucien Libert; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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