Alain Ducasse, 41, acknowledged star of a new generation of cooks, became the first person to win six stars since the legendary "Mother" Brazier in the 1930s. His double consecration, for his restaurant in the 16th arrondissement in Paris and the Hotel Louis XV in Monte Carlo, is recognition by the guide of the managerial, super-star trend in haute cuisine. Yesterday Le Monde said the guide, after refusing to do so last year, had acknowledged that the future belonged to the "consultant chef", the "designer" or food "couturier" travelling from kitchen to kitchen. Michelin had, in effect, abandoned the myth that the chef must be "both composer and pianist".
Not quite. The guide also gave three stars, for the first time, to two restaurants whose chefs still get their hands covered in flour. Pierre Gagnaire, who became the first chef to go bankrupt running a three-star restaurant three years ago, has regained three stars for his new place in Paris. The 33-year-old Pourcel twins, Jacques and Laurent, won three stars for their restaurant, Le Jardin des Sens, in Montpellier, bringing the number of three-star restaurants in France to 21, the highest total yet.
"We started in 1988 without a penny. For a few months we even did the washing up," said Jacques Pourcel, who becomes with his brother, the youngest three-star chef. The Michelin Guide, featuring this year the new slim- line Michelin man, or Bibendum, on his 100th anniversary, is France's most feared gastronomic publication. It refuses to discuss or explain its judgements, shaped by reader recommendations and the findings of its 80 shadowy inspectors.
There is, inevitably, something of the food-political about its pronouncements. Apart from official consecration of the peripatetic, couturier-chef, the significant development this year is the equal honours given to the stars of the classical, wonderful-sauce-with-everything French approach and more adventurous, or heretical, chefs, like Mr Gagnaire, open to foreign influences and ingredients. He lost face and fortune when his restaurant in St Etienne went into liquidation in 1995. Yesterday he said he had "lost everything, been driven from my home town, suffered insults and ironies, but managed to start all over again to express my culinary philosophy".
As Le Monde pointed out, the influence of traditional French cuisine is in "retreat" all over the world. Terence Conran, the British furniture and restaurant magnate, plans to confront France on its home turf by opening a restaurant in Paris this year.
In reply to these challenges the guide has endorsed two separate approaches, usually seen as incompatible. By re-honouring Mr Gagnaire, the Michelin is endorsing a more open "globalist" cooking style. By doubly consecrating Mr Ducasse it has freed him, Le Monde predicts, to export his talents to America and elsewhere to re-establish the reputation of the classically French tradition.
If none of that means anything to you, or you see no reason to spend pounds 100 on a single meal, the guide is still worth buying or borrowing. It contains 458 restaurants in the bib gourmand category, where you can eat good regional food from pounds 7 a head.