Here’s how Marchesi and Bras refused the Michelin stars

Italian Simone Cantafio experienced both episodes, almost 10 years apart. The day Gualtiero said no


A clipping from weekly magazine Panorama, published after the famous episode in 2008 when Gualtiero Marchesi, then at Albereta in Erbusco (Brescia), refused his 3 Michelin stars. Second from the right, Simone Cantafio, from Milan, now chef and director in Toya, at the restaurant Michel and Sebastien Bras opened in Japan - another family that recently refused 3 Michelin stars

Some call them historical events, some revolutionary, or media bombs. I experienced two refusals of Michelin stars of which much has been said lately: in 2008, when I was working at Albereta in Erbusco, with Gualtiero Marchesi. Since 2015 I’m the chef at restaurant Michel Bras in Toya, Japan. Both have been moments full of humanity and strong emotions. Two eras, two great names, two very important choices in life.

In Erbusco I was a commis in one of the most prestigious brigades in Italy. That morning I remember the atmosphere in the kitchen was tense. There was a strange ferment in the air. People were running everywhere. Then Mr Marchesi arrived in the kitchen. Very calmly, and with his unique attitude he told us: «Boys, no more grades from now on. No more guides, no more stars. It’s time to turn the page». 

We thought he was being ironic as usual. He loved to joke, he was unpredictable. But with those words he was writing one of the most important chapters in the recent history of Italian gastronomy. 

He immediately called 4 cooks to his office, including myself. He looked at us and continued: «Boys, now let’s take a nice photo. We’ll use it as a background for my statement. What statement? 'Critics, from now on, I win'», he said. It became an article on weekly magazine Panorama. It wasn’t’ a joke: Marchesi wanted to leave the Michelin guide for good.

Il Rosso e il Nero, that is to say Monkfish with squid ink, Gualtiero Marchesi’s homage to Lucio Fontana after refusing the Michelin stars

Il Rosso e il Nero, that is to say Monkfish with squid ink, Gualtiero Marchesi’s homage to Lucio Fontana after refusing the Michelin stars

Chaos followed. Telephones kept ringing. Hosting in that atmosphere was very hard. When we returned to our rooms, under the kitchen at the back of Albereta, we spoke about it. We spent hours discussing, wondering: «What will happen to us now?».

Like every storm, that one too ended at some point. Albereta was once again peaceful and Mr Marchesi was calmer, he smiled more, he was more humane. Leaving restaurant guides had removed his superhero armour, and transformed him into a post-star Marchesi. That is to say that he was more of an artist. He had more freedom for the cuisine he had perhaps always dreamt of doing. The cuisine that Michelin standards prevented him to do, in a way.

Soon he created dishes like Giardino zen, Il Rosso e il Nero, Animella al vapore e soia and many other masterpieces which we believed he had had in mind for a long time. This is why our response was positive and, personally, from that moment on I started a unique relationship with him that no amount of pages could describe.

1. To be continued
(Edited by Gabriele Zanatta)