Gault Millau has rocked the French culinary establishment by nominating the practically unknown Jean-Luc Rabanel as chef of the year in its 2008 guide.
Rabanel – who runs L’Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel, a tiny 40-seater bistro in the back streets of Arles – has only one Michelin star.
His illustrious predecessors in the guide, including Joel Robuchon, Michel Bras and Pierre Gagnaire, are garlanded with honours.
Praising his work as ‘the perfect evolution of cooking today’, the guide – published this week – awards the 43-year-old 17 points and 3 toques (chef’s hats) for his ‘flaming creativity’ and ‘modern free vision’.
Rabanel’s unwritten ‘menu d’emotions’ which typically runs to some 13 courses costs only €65 (‘the price of a meal in a brasserie’ as the guide points out).
The menu is based almost entirely on organic produce from his own 3ha garden, where he grows over 100 different varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables.
Rabanel told decanter.com it was ‘a fantastic honour for a tiny restaurant with no big financial backers – a real revolution.’
He added, ‘When the editor phoned me I thought someone was playing a joke. Then I burst into tears. I had to ask for 10 minutes to compose myself.’
Rabanel is also opening a bistro called A Coté in the neighbouring building in mid November, and publishing his first book L’Atelier du Vivant.
Gault Millau says Rabanel’s award, like that of Rebuchon in 1985, Bras in 1988 and Gagnaire in 1993, is evidence of a ‘new wind… blowing through French gastronomy.’
Written by Fiona Beckett