When Gilles Goujon met his wife-to-be at the age of 18, he gave her a warning. "I want three Michelin stars. Cooking is an overflowing passion and this is my holy grail." Thirty years on he has achieved his ambition.
In the 101st edition of the Michelin guide, published yesterday, Goujon's L'Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse, a remote village in Les Corbières is the only restaurant in France this year to gain a third Michelin star.
Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guide, telephoned the chef – as he does with all restaurants that gain, or lose, a third star – to let him know of his success. Goujon, whose specialities include baby goat, red mullet and eggs "rotted" with truffles, and who offers set menus from €58 (£52) to €125, said the accolade was "a fresh start and a huge responsibility." The power of the Michelin guide is so immense that restaurants given three-star ratings – meaning they serve "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" can expect a 30 per cent increase in turnover annually, according to Le Journal du Dimanche.
While Goujon gained a third star, La Maison de Marc Veyrat in Annecy, near Geneva, lost one of its three, and the number of restaurants with the top accolade remains the same at 26.
In total, 47 restaurants gained a first star this year, while 10 gained a second.
Mr Naret said that in top kitchens across France, chefs are "returning to their roots" because of the economic downturn, focusing on local seasonal produce after years of extravagance.
"Chefs are going back to their grandmother's recipes with new techniques and regional produce that is more affordable and unfussy," he said.
The guide has been criticised for being out of touch with food enthusiasts and having a blinkered attitude to foreign cuisine in France. Francois Simon, food critic for Le Figaro newspaper, said last month: "Michelin continues to push gastronomically correct cooking, sticking French cuisine in a genteel rut, letting itself be forever impressed by heavy, painstaking work."
In an apparent rebuttal, Mr Naret said the awards this year focus on "youth and the soil".
In Paris, the one-year-old Yam'tcha restaurant, where the chef Adeline Grattard offers Chinese-inspired cuisine served with tea to a maximum of 20 people at a time, was awarded its first star.
Grattard, 32, who has previously worked in Hong Kong, attributes the success of the restaurant to her Chinese influences, and believes that being a woman has given her an edge. "Not many women set up all by themselves," she said.
The Michelin guide remains the world's best-selling restaurant guide, with 1.2 million copies sold worldwide.