Mark Poynton on losing a Michelin Star

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th May 2019

Chefs spend their entire careers striving for a spot in the Michelin Guide. And yet just like that, without notice, it can be taken away. 

How does it feel to have arguably the most sought-out recognition of culinary talent taken away,  after years of blood sweat and tears spent trying to earn it? 

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Outside Alimentum, where Mark Poynton

was head chef for nine years

"The biggest thing to take away from it now, is that I held a Michelin star for five years."  These are the sensible words of Mark Poynton, the former head chef of Alimentum in Cambridge, which permanently shut its doors in October last year. 

The closure was the culmination of the restaurant's fall from grace,  which lost its place in the Michelin Guide after five years of holding a star.

To be clear, the chef explained, he was already planning on leaving Alimentum beforehand, but the news precipitated his departure.

"I was in talks and in the thought process of leaving before that to open something on my own," he said. 

However that didn't make it any less traumatic, mostly because it was so unexpected. 

"I had visits from Michelin and received no negative feedback at all. I know Michelin have said they don't give feedback but it proved to be a load of bollocks, because they gave feedback on every visit we had. And I've had more negative feedback on visits prior to that." 

One of the hardest things for him was to find himself jobless after twenty five years of working as a chef - including twenty spent trying to get a Michelin star. 

"I went from working every day to being unemployed and not having a salary," he said.  

“There were a lot of dark days afterwards. You sit down and contemplate what you've done and how you can do it better but without being told what you did wrong, it's hard to say how you could make it better.”

Mentally, the series of events took its toll on Mark, and led him to take it out on people around him. 

"I probably pushed people away from me that I shouldn't have done at the time, close friends, my wife took a lot of the flak for it. Because you're trying to think why, but you don't know why. 

"There were a lot of dark days afterwards. You sit down and contemplate what you've done and how you can do it better but without being told what you did wrong, it's hard to say how you could make it better."

Plans new restaurant

A floorplan for Mark's new restaurant 

Credit: @markjpoynton

But eventually, the chef came to see things with a bit more perspective. 

"I came to the conclusion that you know what, fuck it, it doesn't matter. That's the overall feeling I have now, it doesn't matter. It didn't matter then and it shouldn't matter to all the people now that are still trying to achieve that, it doesn't matter," he said. 

"It doesn't make you any happier when you have a Michelin star and I can tell you now it certainly doesn't make you any richer. It doesn't define you as a person and it never will." 

The chef is planning a new restaurant in Cambridge which he hopes will open in spring next year.

Since leaving Alimentum, the chef has hosted over 40 pop-up events, which he said has helped him build up a network of loyal customers and allowed him to define a concept for his new venture. 

"It's been really nice to step back to why I started cooking 25 years ago. You forget that a little bit when you're surrounded by trying to pay the bills, making sure people get paid on time, stuff like that, you forget why you did it the first time. You cook food to make people happy.

And while he may never find out why he lost his star, making moving on that bit harder, he hopes to feature in the guide again one day. 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th May 2019

Mark Poynton on losing a Michelin Star