The Michelin Guide has labelled French chef Marc Veyrat a "narcissistic diva" ahead of the opening of his legal action against the red guide over claims he used cheddar cheese in a soufflé. It is the first time a chef has taken the prestigious guide to court.
Michelin stripped his flagship restaurant La Maison des Bois in the French Alps of its coveted third star in January.
Veyrat claims that an "incompetent" Michelin inspector mistakenly thought he had modified a soufflé by using English cheddar cheese instead of using French Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme varieties.
Recognisable for his wide-brimmed black Savoyard hat and dark glasses, Veyrat told AFP that the case, which opens before a judge in a suburb of the French capital Wednesday, is a matter of "honour" for him.
The chef said the Michelin review nearly broke him, sending him into an eight-month depression, and leaving his cooks in tears.
"That they said that my soufflé was full of cheddar," he said. "The fact that they took 'my virtual scallops' to be real coquilles Saint-Jacques when they were made from a base of burbot (fish) livers from Lake Geneva shows a lack of competence," he said.
If he wins the case and forces Michelin to hand over its secret judging notes, it could cause an earthquake in the restaurant world, potentially setting a precedent for other disgruntled chefs.
Michelin hit back on the eve of the court battle, branding Veyrat a "narcissistic diva" suffering from "pathological egotism".
Michelin's lawyers were withering in response, calling the case "grotesque".
Freedom of expression or vanity?
"The court is not there to protect men's vanity," barrister Richard Malka told AFP.
Malka said the case flies in the face of reason and basic constitutional right of freedom of expression.
"Mr Veyrat wants France to abandon the principle that restaurant critics should have the freedom to have an opinion because his restaurant has two stars rather than three – because La Maison des Bois was judged to be just excellent rather than brilliant," he added.
While Veyrat is demanding symbolic damages of one euro, Michelin is now counter suing for 30,000 euros in costs and compensation.
But Veyrat's lawyer Emmanuel Ravanas said that the case was far from an abuse of the legal system.
"For decades Marc Veyrat has been used to his cooking being judged and compared and he knows that no one has (Michelin) stars for life," said Ravanas, adding that all depended on the criticism being "rigorous".