Foodies are looking beyond the pandemic for a revolution in French gastronomy



Chef Yannick Alléno served a € 395 menu consisting of langoustines and foie gras in his three-Michelin-starred restaurant near the Champs-Elysées.

But as France prepares to allow restaurants to reopen for outdoor service next week after a six-month shutdown, it will instead serve burgers in its wine bar for a fraction of the price.

That a superstar chef like Alléno, whose stable of high-end restaurants from Courchevel to Marrakech holds more than ten Michelin stars, change his strategy underlines France’s difficulties great restaurants as they seek to recover from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to inspire people to come here by arousing their curiosity,” he said of Pavillon Ledoyen, the neoclassical building that houses several of its restaurants, including the three-star Alléno Paris.

Such temples of French gastronomy have long welcomed wealthy foreign tourists, who will gladly pay over € 1,000 for a meal for two as long as they experience the French art of living. But with international travel severely curtailed by the pandemic, these customers are unlikely to return for some time.

Yannick Alléno operates upscale restaurants from Paris to Courchevel and Marrakech which hold a dozen Michelin stars combined © Francois Durand / Getty

Attracting locals is the new challenge, as is retaining employees, many of whom have left the industry and its notoriously difficult working conditions. Many restaurants are also struggling with large debts after taking out state-guaranteed loans to weather the crisis.

“I have three years of fighting ahead of me,” Alléno said, adding that half of the group’s € 4m in cash reserves had been spent. “For three-star restaurants, there will be many victims.

Its flagship restaurant generated more than three-quarters of the income of foreign diners, mainly from Asia and the United States. Since there is no point in reopening without them, the doors will remain closed until September. For now, Alléno will be experimenting in the less formal place as he prepares a redesign that seeks to bring gastronomy into the 21st century.

“Everything has to change,” he said, citing the title of the book he co-wrote during the lockdown. In it, he called for an overhaul of everything from the style of service (warmer, more personalized) to staffing (more flexible and family-friendly).

French high gastronomy Its roots go back to visionary 19th-century chefs such as Auguste Escoffier and Marie-Antoine Car̻me, who created cuisine based on rich sauces and meticulous service Рoften theatrical. For decades he was considered the best in the world and has become a key part of French identity.

But its popularity has waned in recent decades thanks to competition first from the brilliance of molecular gastronomy, then from the clean Nordic style. In French haute cuisine lost ground, it has become much more expensive, putting it out of reach of many.

“The pandemic has revealed that the business model of high-end restaurants in France simply does not work without tourists,” said Joerg Zipprick, co-founder of the La Liste group, which ranks the best restaurants in the world.

“This is a relatively new development. That was it. . . a doctor or local manager would come to these places to celebrate a special occasion. Not anymore.”

Zipprick said that for top chefs, many of whom had spent the last year experimenting with take-out and meal kits, success hinged on their willingness to adapt.

A customer picks up his order at Baieta in Paris

Restaurant Baieta in Paris. Many great chefs have experimented with take-out and meal kits over the past year © Franck Fife / Getty

Diners won’t want difficult and experimental dishes upon their return, he predicted, but instead will want to eat good food at a good restaurant in the company of friends and family.

“No more technical stuff or food that requires a long explanation from the waiter on the fermentation process. People don’t want their meal to be a work of art, ”Zipprick said.

The last time French cuisine reinvented itself was in the 1970s when chefs like Paul Bocuse and the Troisgros brothers created new kitchen. The movement, less opulent and calorie-dense than the fine cuisine that preceded it, highlights fresh, quality ingredients and the service becomes less formal.

Alléno believes that the best restaurants should aim to personalize experiences by discussing with customers beforehand about their dinner occasion, guests and their tastes.

This “concierge service” approach would allow better menu planning, improving the customer experience and the restaurant’s profitability.

“If I know I only have three people who will be eating lobster on any given night, I don’t need to order six pounds just in case,” he said. “It really makes a difference for the kitchen.

Others are even more radical. Daniel Humm’s three-star Eleven Madison Park in New York City will no longer serve meat and seafood when it reopens next month, as the Swiss chef seeks to show that sustainable and environmentally friendly eating can be compatible with luxury.

However, Eric Fréchon, the three-Michelin-starred chef at the Epicure restaurant at the five-star Le Bristol Paris, downplayed expectations for a radical change.

“Things will go back to how they were before,” said Fréchon, noting that the hotel’s restaurants had a significant local clientele. “People have missed the experience of high gastronomy for so long they will be eager to come back.

Fréchon said he would keep some innovations from the coronavirus era, including the € 1,390 “gastronomy and bed” package which is marketed as an overnight stay for locals that includes dinner in their suite or bedroom. hotel room.

“For New Years Eve we had 60 waiters coming and going in the rooms, it was really difficult,” he said. “But it allowed us to reach new customers who might not have dared to come to a three-star restaurant. Now we have to keep them.

Additional reporting by Domitille Alain in Paris



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