The culinary world was shocked Saturday when news broke that 20-year-old chef sensation Bince Dolanier's restaurant in California had became the first establishment ever to be awarded four Michelin stars thereby shattering the thought-to-be-unbreakable three star ceiling..
It was an extraordinary move by the French tyre manufacture guidebook which began doling out single stars in 1926 and up to three by 1931. The honoring of Dolanier, the French-born, American-raised l'enfant volatile chef, was lauded by many, but scorned by traditionalists.
"This is blasphemy," said the Parisian restaurant critic Maurice SuSway. "To say this Bince is better than Point? Than Dumaine? Than Girardet? Than Crenn? Than Lefebvre? Than Robuchon? Than Waxman? Than Chapel? Than Sone? Absurd. It must some kind of desperate publicity stunt like they did in the late 90s. Either that, or Michelin has sold out to an American cooperation."
Speaking to Stanford undergraduates, Bince said Michelin had "come correct" by bestowing four stars on his Livermore California restaurant which has been called the "Mount Everest of cuisine" and "Alamogordo* of the kitchen."
"For 75 years years, the Michelin guide has put limits, has put a ceiling, on greatness,": said Dolanier whose first name rhymes with "Vince". "The ultimate goal, the golden ceiling, if you will, has been three stars. Who says we cannot burst through that ceiling and leap to the stars? Did Miles Davis have a ceiling? Did Rembrandt? I guess Michelangelo had one, but he sure made it look good. The narrow-minded people outraged by my fourth star are the same people who didn't understand Copernicus. We cannot put a ceiling on creativity or genius."
Some of the world's greatest chefs agreed.
"Bince is right about the Michelin guide and it's limitations," said Marc Haeberlin, chef of the idyllic L' Auberge De L'ill in Illhaeusern, Alsace, France. which has had three Michelin stars since 1967 "Our goal - my father Paul's and now mine and Dirck Gieselmann's - for the last 47 years has been to maintain that third star. We should not be content by merely staying at three stars, but striving for more. And now, thanks to Bince, there is more. I say congratulation to Bince and his entire staff.".
That sentiment was echoed across the Atlantic.
"There are more than 100 restaurants in the world with three Michelin stars," said chef Michael Voltaggio, whose Los Angeles restaurant Ink has three Goodyear stars. "Don't you think it would be more interesting to have 90-three-stars and 10 four-stars? I see that as the future of the Michelin guide. Everything else is exploding, why not guide books?"
Bince Dolanier's career began in 1997 at age three when he staged at Fredy Girardet in Crissier Switzerland, widely considered the best restaurant in the world at the time. Though Girardet himself retired later that very year, he instilled a work ethic in the young Bince. "Chef Girardet taught me if I wanted to be at the top of my profession I would need to give up certain things such as childhood, education and fun."
By the time Dolanier was seven he was the saucier at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, the domaine of Alain Ducasse and Franck Cerutti. Ducasse remembered Dolanier well.
"Bince was six or seven when he came to the kitchen at XV, but he acted more like a nine or ten-year-old. Very mature. I vividly recall him telling me that sauce for fish needs to be like a thick, flavored water so the fish would feel comfortable right up 'til the very end and not tense up before people ate it. Such poetry, even touching, I thought, though, at the same time, I'm thinking 'this kid is whack'. The fish is dead. Still, even then, Bince showed he had that 'certain something'."
Three years later, working as a line cook at Les Freres Troisgros ( now known as Maison Troisgros), Bince showed his creative violent side sensationally when he beat a male customer to death with a cooper pan of Troisgros' famous sorrel cream sauce ( usually used flawlessly on their salmon) The man had accused Dolanier of substituting prized Limousin beef used for the cote de boeuf with six packages of Von's Rancher's Reserve. Due largely to French cattle grower's support, Dolanier was never brought to trail.
Seeking a country where their son's violent tendencies would fit in better, Dolanier's family - his father Bernarse, an engineer from St. Emillion who had designed corks for Cheval Blanc,. and his mother Chantel, a probation officer originally from East St. Louis, Illinois - moved to California in 2008, when Bince was 14.
The young Bince worked tirelessly through the kitchens at Terra in St. Helena, and at Boulevard and Quince in San Francisco until he opened his own restaurant across the street from Lawrence Livermore Labs, where his father works in a top secret laser labs that turns hydrogen into helium.
And across the street from the lab, at Bince Dolanier, the effects are almost as profound. As the Michelin Guide stated in its reasoning for awarding Dolanier the elusive fourth star, "It seems like when you take a bite of anything on the menu at Bince Dolanier, it explodes in your mouth."
End of Bince Dolanier, Part 1.
* Alamogordo is the site in New Mexico where, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was exploded .