Chef giving up his Michelin stars shows the perils of constantly being ranked

Some chefs spend their whole careers cooking and sweating in kitchens for the elusive marker of excellence bestowed on the anointed few — a Michelin star. But one French chef, whose restaurant maintained three stars in the Michelin guide for nearly 20 years, has decided to give up his elite status, saying that the pressure and demands that came with the Michelin stars had gotten to be too stressful.

Sébastien Bras took to Facebook to explain why he would be giving up his three-star status of Michelin excellence for his restaurant Le Suquet.

“Today, at 46 years old, I want to give a new meaning to my life … and redefine what is essential,” he said in a Facebook Live video. “I have decided, in agreement with my whole family, to open a new chapter of my professional life without the reward of the Michelin Guide, but with so much passion for cooking.”

Because Bras would never know when Michelin inspectors would show up to inspect his restaurant, Bras told Agence France-Presse that the pressures of having to cook every meal as if it could be judged were a contributing factor to his decision to opt out of the ranking game. By relinquishing his stars, Bras said he “will be able to feel free, without asking myself whether my creations would please the Michelin inspectors.”

The pressure of constant monitoring

Workplace ranking systems are becoming more popular as algorithms make observing your employees’ every action more feasible. Hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, for example, has created a real-time online feedback app to publicly rate your meeting performance, so that both you and everyone at your company that you respect can know how poorly you executed your pitch.

But is constant feedback good for your creative ambitions? Bras was preparing dishes to please judges but not necessarily himself. His decision to opt out of the rankings game shows the perils of basing your success on external achievements and a jury outside of your control. When you judge your success on someone else’s criteria, you can never feel comfortable or at peace.

As a New Yorker article on restaurant reviewers’ contentious relationships with chefs showed, top chefs live in constant anxiety of having a review make or break their restaurant.

Once you reach the top of your field, you must choose to embrace this pressure-cooker of raised expectations — or escape its heat as Bras has chosen to do.