A "posthumous" award for excellent cooking has been presented to a restaurant which closed down three months ago.
There were red faces at France's big red book, the Michelin Guide, yesterday when it emerged that the 2011 edition had awarded a coveted star to a restaurant that served its last meal in December.
Max Bichot, chef of Les Hêtres at Ingouville-sur-Mer on the north Normandy coast, was philosophical about his belated promotion to the culinary aristocracy. "I am very happy because this is the recognition that many chefs aspire to," he said. "It's just a pity that it didn't come a little earlier."
Mr Bichot, 52, closed down his fish restaurant on 30 December because of a "lack of customers". With four- course menus ranging in price from €39 to €85 (£33 to £72), Les Hêtres, which translates as "the beeches", had won praise from several other restaurant guides.
"If I had been given the star earlier, it might have made all the difference," he said. "The Michelin guide is, after all, the real consecration for any chef. My cooking was just as good before."
There is no question of the restaurant reopening. The premises have been sold and are being converted into a private house. Mr Bichot has, in any case, other fish to fry. "I had the good fortune to fall in love with a woman who has a seafood restaurant at Yport [a few kilometres away]," he said. "I am going to help her out in her kitchen – with no pressure."
The commercial failure of Mr Bichot's restaurant, despite its quality, is a sign of the times. Many restaurateurs have been moving away from the "haute cuisine" category for something more affordable.
In the 2011 Michelin Guide to France, published on Monday, the 577 three-, two- and one-star restaurants were outnumbered for the first time by restaurants in the "Bib Gourmand" category of good eating for less than €29 a head (or €35 in Paris). There were 117 new restaurants in this category, bringing the total to 601.
Unusually, no restaurant was promoted to three stars. One was demoted to two stars, reducing the number of restaurants in France in the very highest Michelin category to just 25.