Originally created 01/30/05

Guide recommends restaurant that hadn't opened



PARIS - For the first time in its 105-year history, Michelin is recalling an edition of its famous food guide after it recommended a restaurant whose rating was determined before it served customers.

The recall of 50,000 copies of the 2005 guide for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg is another blow for the little red book whose reputation as the premier gastronome's bible was called into question last year by one of its former top restaurant inspectors.

The guide recommended the Ostend Queen in Belgium as a stop for diners looking to eat decently without great expense. In Michelin terms, the award attributed was a "Bib Gourmand" - less coveted than the guide's gastronomic stars but still a potential client draw.

Trouble is, the guide settled on the recommendation before the restaurant had opened for business.

"The restaurant was not yet open," Michelin spokeswoman Michelle Pierson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Under normal procedures, "we should visit establishments after their official opening."

Ostend Queen co-owner Fernand David said the Benelux chief editor visited "when the project was at an advanced stage. He talked to us and said, 'It would be a pity if we kept this establishment from the users of the guide.'"

"Now there are insinuations that there has been a deal, but we don't see it that way," Belgium's De Morgen newspaper quoted David as saying. "I really don't see what the fuss is about." Restaurant representatives could not be reached for further comment.

Pierson conceded that Michelin, which has sold more than 30 million guides since the first one covering France was published in 1900, had fallen short of its standards. But she added, "There's no cronyism here."

"We have a very strict quality processes, precisely to be reliable, and here apparently the process was not followed to the letter," she said.

In initially recommending the Ostend Queen, Michelin's Belgian team "thought they had sufficient elements in the dossier about who was doing the cooking, what was going to be on the menu, and all these details like that," she said.

But the decision was later revisited and "bookstores are being informed that the Benelux guide is withdrawn from sale because there was an error regarding the attribution of a Bib Gourmand," Pierson said.

Renowned Belgian chef Pierre Wynants, a consultant at Ostend Queen, told the La Libre newspaper Michelin's recommendation was "based on the plans and the menu" and that editors "decided to mention us in the 2005 edition so that we should not wait for a year."

"There was no negotiation, nor agreement, and certainly not a friendly deal, even if I know the Michelin management well," said Wynants, cook-owner of the three-star Comme Chez Soi, perhaps Belgium's best-known restaurant.

The Benelux edition is mostly but not exclusively sold in the three countries it surveys and comes in several languages. It had started arriving in bookstores this week, Pierson said.

A replacement guide - minus the recommendation for the Ostend Queen - should be available within two months, she said.

The embarrassment comes after former Michelin inspector Pascal Remy caused a storm last year with allegations that the guide checks restaurants only sporadically, employs few inspectors and lets some top restaurants undeservedly keep stars mostly because of their chefs' prestige.

Michelin fired Remy and bitterly denied his claims. He lost a lawsuit alleging wrongful dismissal.

Associated Press writer Raf Casert contributed to this report from Brussels, Belgium.