Paris (AFP) - Marc Veyrat, the comeback king of French cuisine, was back on the top of the culinary tree Monday after the Michelin guide awarded him the maximum three stars.
The flamboyant chef, who is rarely seen without his black Savoyard hat and cape, has now won the top rating for three different restaurants over the course of his career.
Nine years after Veyrat was forced to give up cooking after a serious skiing accident and three after his alpine restaurant La Maison des Bois burned down, the 67-year-old was back at the summit of French cooking.
Famed for his highly inventive creations that mix delicate infusions of wild herbs with hearty traditional Savoyard cooking, Veyrat is one of only two "new" chefs promoted this year to the elite club who hold three stars, a source told AFP.
The self-taught master, who has spent most of his life cooking in his home village of Manigod 1,600 metres (5,200 feet) up the Alps near Annecy, has twice been given the maximum 20 out of 20 score by the rival Gault-Millau guide.
Veyrat, whose organic alpine vegetable gardens around his restaurant almost make it self-sufficient, is a pioneer of using wild mountain herbs in broths and fermentations, and cites the botanist Francois Couplan among his heroes.
Renowned fish cook Christophe Bacquie of the Castellet Hotel in the Var region of southeast France was also awarded a third star for the first time.
- Perfumed cream of kaffir lime -
The 45-year-old is best known for his Mediterranean-influenced recipes, including John Dory, crab and caviar served in a perfumed cream of kaffir lime, and whiting in a butter moose swimming in a reduction of chicken and truffle with truffled mashed potatoes.
Only a tiny club of 28 chefs hold three stars from the Michelin guide, the bible of French gastronomy.
Last week for the first time the Michelin allowed a top French restaurant to bow out of its listings after its chef told AFP he no longer wanted to work under the "huge pressure" of being judged by its inspectors.
Sebastien Bras' Le Suquet restaurant in the rural Aveyron region had held the maximum three-star rating for 18 years.
This year the guide is launching a mentoring scheme led by Anne-Sophie Pic, the only woman at the head of a three-star restaurant in France, to help chefs cope with the pressure Michelin stars bring.
"It is a great boost to get a star," Pic told AFP, "but there is also extra pressure as well as the fear of losing it. It can be a steamroller. With more and more people wanting to book a table at your restaurant, their expectations also rise."
The 2018 Michelin rankings were to be unveiled at a press conference at a Paris theatre later Monday.
However, the organisers have already said more foreign-born chefs will number in its ranks and that five more stars have been rewarded than last year.
The full Michelin guide for France, whose ratings are based on usually two or three visits by anonymous inspectors, will be published on Friday.