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Chef Gives Up a Star, Reflecting Hardship of ‘the Other France’

On the streets of Montceau there was nobody to reproach Mr. Brochot. The reasons for his gesture appeared obvious.

“If they gave me a star I wouldn’t take it, because I wouldn’t be able to sell it,” laughed Olivier Michalak, the last remaining butcher — there were once three — on the main street, Rue Carnot.

“I’ve got lots of little grandmothers and old people as customers,” the butcher added. “For sure, it’s hardly a safe bet to keep a one-star open in this town.”

Already Mr. Brochot’s strategy appears to be working. He has cut his prices and is offering a more down-to-earth cuisine of stews, including the classic blanquette de veau, and serving cod instead of the more expensive sea bass.

It had depressed him deeply, he said, to have to throw away costly bass and turbot, like gold even in France’s street markets, at the end of every sitting because his customers couldn’t afford it. “There was a lot of waste,” he said.

“Since we changed the formula, we’ve gotten a lot more people,” Mr. Brochot said. Above all, the effect has been psychological. “In the heads of people, a one-star, it’s the price,” he said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, most of the tables had diners, including Didier Mathus, the longtime former mayor, a Socialist.

“I thought, a good-quality restaurant in a worker’s town would be a great thing,” said Mr. Mathus, who helped Mr. Brochot establish himself in the early days.

“Maybe the star scared people,” Mr. Mathus said. “I understand. He’s saying, ‘Don’t be scared to come here.’ Here, it’s simple people, with modest incomes.”

Source: NYT > World

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