Chef profits by sending back his Michelin award

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The Independent Online

A German restaurateur has cocked a snook at France's guardians of culinary excellence and handed back his Michelin star after claiming that the coveted award was damaging his business and draining profits.

Matthias Dahlinger, the 34-year-old chef and owner of the family-run Eichhalde restaurant in the German university town of Freiburg, had held his single Michelin star for six years.

But on Monday, when Michelin's new German 2004 Red Guide appeared in bookshops, the Eichhalde was omitted. "I was losing lots of money so I told them to take back their star," Mr Dahlinger told The Independent. "They were pretty annoyed about it."

His decision flew in the face of conventional gastronomic wisdom. Hans-Peter Wodarz, a Michelin starholder chef, recently described the experience of losing the award as "close to castration" in Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.

But Mr Dahlinger said the award had become a burden. "It was costing me a fortune to keep up with Michelin's standards and there were not enough customers who were willing to pay the prices I had to charge," he said.

Mr Dahlinger said his business had increased profits by about 28 per cent and cut costs by about 10 per cent since he rejected the award and instituted a cost-cutting programme. Out went the luxuries Michelin restaurant goers expect. Dishes such as turbot and paté de foie gras were replaced with trout and home-made liver paté. Also out are expensive French wines, amuse gueule snacks and petit fours.

Michelin's latest Red Guide awards new stars to 23 restaurants in Germany and Austria, but 14 starred establishments listed in the 2003 edition have since closed. By contrast Mr Dahlinger's Eichhalde appears to be booming.