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Gastronomy looks beyond the pandemic to the French fine dining revolution

Gastronomy looks beyond the pandemic to the French fine dining revolution

Chef Yannick Alléno offered a € 395 menu that included prawns and foie gras at a three-star Michelin restaurant near the Champs-Elysées.

But while France is preparing to reopen its restaurant for external service after being closed for six months next week, it will be serving burgers there for a fraction of the price.

A star chef like Alléno, a stable top-notch restaurant with more than a dozen Michelin stars from Courchevel to Marrakech, stresses that the strategy is changing. great restaurants because they want to recover from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to encourage people to come here, arousing curiosity,” he said of Pavillon Ledoyen, a neoclassical building that houses many of its restaurants, including the three-star Alléno Paris.

Such temples of French gastronomy have long catered to wealthy foreign tourists, who will pay more than 1,000 euros while living for a meal for two. the French art of living. With international travel pandemics severely reduced, these customers are not expected to return for some time.

Yannick Alléno has top restaurants from Paris to Courchevel and Marrakesh, along with a dozen Michelin stars. © Francois Durand / Getty

The new challenge is to attract locals, as well as retain staff, many of whom have left the sector and working conditions significantly difficult. Many restaurants also have large debts to get out of the crisis after taking out state-guaranteed loans.

“I have a three-year struggle ahead of me,” Alleno said, adding that half of the 4 million euros spent to save the team’s money has been spent. “In three-star restaurants, there will be a lot of deaths.”

Its flagship restaurant generated more than three-quarters of the revenue of foreign diners, mostly from Asia and the US. Since it makes little sense to reopen without them, the doors will remain closed until September. Alléno is currently experimenting in a less formal location with the excellent restaurant XXI. While he organizes an innovation that seeks to lead the century.

“Everything needs to change,” he said, citing the title of the book he wrote on the block. There, he asked for a renewal of the style of service (warmer, more personalized) and staff (more flexible and for families).

French haute cuisine It originates from the spectacular chefs of the 19th century, such as Auguste Escoffier and Marie-Antoine Carême, who created a cuisine based on rich sauces and a rigorous (often theatrical) service. For decades it was considered the best in the world and became an essential part of French identity.

But its popularity has faded in recent decades first thanks to the brilliance of molecular gastronomy and then the competition for light Nordic style. Like the French haute cuisine the lost land, became much more expensive, making it available to many.

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

“It’s a fairly new development. That used to be the case. . . a local doctor or director would come to these places to celebrate a special occasion. No more. “

Zipprick said that for the best chefs, many of whom have spent the last year and experimenting with meal kits, it depends on their willingness to adapt to success.

A customer receives his order from the Bays of Paris

Baieta restaurant in Paris. Many top chefs have experimented with shopping and meal kits over the past year © Franck Fife / Getty

He announced that the diners would not want sharp and experimental dishes in return, but they would like to eat a good meal in the company of friends and relatives in a nice restaurant.

“There is no technical thing or food that requires a long explanation of the fermentation process by the server. People don’t want lunch to be a work of art, ”Zipprick said.

The last time French cuisine was reinvented was in the 1970s, when it was created by chefs like the brothers Paul Bocuse and Troisgros. new kitchen. The movement, which was less prosperous and warm than the fine dining rooms before it, put fresh, high-quality ingredients in front of them and the service became less formal.

Alleno believes that the best restaurants should have tailored experiences to customers before dinner, talking about guests and tastes.

This “concierge service” approach would allow for better planning of menus, improving the customer experience and the economy of the restaurant.

“I know I only have three people eating shrimp on a given night, so I don’t have to ask for six pounds just in case,” he said. “It really changes things for the kitchen.”

Others are becoming even more radical. New York’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 wants to show that it can be compatible with sustainable food and luxurious environmental awareness.

However, Éric Fréchon, the three-star Michelin-starred chef at the five-star Epicure restaurant at Le Bristol Paris, lowered expectations of radical change.

“Things will be back to normal,” Fréchon said, noting that the hotel’s restaurants had a large number of local customers. “People have lost experience haute cuisine they will be eager to return for so long. ”

Fréchon said he will keep some of the innovations from the coronavirus era, including a 1,390-euro “gastronomy and bed” package that is marketed as a one-night stay for locals who dine in their local suite or hotel room.

“On New Year’s Eve we had 60 servers back and forth to the rooms, it was very difficult,” he said. “But it allowed us to reach new customers who wouldn’t dare come to a three-star restaurant. We need to save them now.”

Additional report by Domitille Alain in Paris

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