Paris: The culinary world was reeling from the apparent suicide of Benoit Violier, chef of the "world's best restaurant", casting a cloud over the annual Michelin guide's release Monday of its new star ratings in France.
Top chef Benoit Violier -- whose renowned three-star restaurant in a small Swiss town is seen as the world's best -- was found dead in his home on Sunday in an apparent suicide, police said.
News of the 44-year-old's death, just months after his Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville was crowned the "world's best restaurant" by an exclusive ranking, sparked a wave of sadness as contemporaries extolled the French-Swiss chef's talents.
"Late in the afternoon, police... went to Crissier where they discovered at his home the body of Mr Benoit Violier," Swiss police said in a statement, adding that it appeared he had shot himself.
Crissier, near the southwestern Swiss city of Lausanne, is home to Violier's restaurant.
Police said an investigation had been opened into the death.
The statement added that Violier's family had asked for privacy "to be allowed to mourn in peace".
Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville, which boasts three Michelin stars, was in December named the best of 1,000 top eateries across 48 countries ranked by France's La Liste.
The gastronomic guide is the French foreign ministry's answer to the Britain-based World's 50 Best Restaurants.
Celebrating the win, Violier said at the time: "It's wonderful, it's exceptional for us. This ranking will only motivate our team more."
The merciless pressure top chefs are under was in the spotlight after Violier's death.
Several of France's greatest chefs have pulled out of the Michelin ratings in the past, claiming the pressure it puts on them and their staff was too great.
Ramsay loses out
Superchef Alain Ducasse was both a winner and a loser, picking up the highest rating for his restaurant at Paris' swish Plaza Athenee hotel while losing a star for another of his tables in the French capital – the equally opulent Le Meurice hotel
The big winners this year were luxury hotels in the French capital, with chef Christian Le Squer bringing a third star to the George V, a stone's throw from Ducasse's Plaza Athenee outpost.
But Le Squer told AFP he was not in a mood to celebrate after Violier's death.
"The whole gastronomic world is in tears because we lost a great colleague and friend," he said.
The guide's US-born international director Michael Ellis praised Ducasse for his "brave decision to come up with a style of cooking around the idea of 'naturalness'" at the hotel, while he described Le Squer as "a real virtuoso".
"Every dish by Christian Le Squer is a real work of art, a shining example of what French gastronomy does best," he added.
But the guide raised eyebrows by stripping a star from another restaurant whose founder also killed himself.
Bernard Loiseau shot himself with his hunting rifle in 2003 after another guide, the Gault & Millau, lowered the rating of his renowned establishment in the Burgundy region.
Loiseau's widow Dominique said she was "shocked and disappointed" by the decision to reduce the Relais Bernard Loiseau to two Michelin stars after 25 years at the top of the table.
Ellis defended his inspectors' judgement.
"It was a difficult decision but it is part of the job," he said. "We made numerous visits to be absolutely sure... I hope the Relais Bernard Loiseau gets the star back as soon as possible."
Big name British chef Gordon Ramsay's Trianon restaurant at Versailles was also downgraded, dropping to just one star.
Robuchon on the up
While Ducasse has built a global restaurant brand on the reputation he has won in France, the British-based World Best Restaurant list has been sceptical of his genius.
His Plaza Athenee restaurant languishes at 47th in its rankings, although the alternative French-based La Liste — which claims a more scientific basis for its ranking system — placed his Monaco restaurant Louis XV as the world's 17th best.
In December, La Liste named Violier's Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville the best of 1,000 top eateries across 48 countries.
Joel Robuchon, who was La Liste's highest rated chef overall, was one of the biggest winners in the new Michelin ratings, going straight in with two stars for his Grande Maison restaurant, which opened in Bordeaux 18 months ago.
Ellis said the guide's feared army of anonymous inspectors notorious for punishing the slightest slippage in its exacting standards, had found French gastronomy to be in rude health.
Paris — long criticised for the quality and value for money of its cuisine in comparison to the provinces — has made particular progress, he claimed.
"Of the 380 tables that have entered the guide for the first time, 100 are in Paris. It is proof that the city is more than ever a place where chefs want to cook," he said.