Bouillabaisse Royale at Hotel Lutetia (Gerald Passedat)
Getting to the top of the culinary tree can take chefs years if not decades of gruelling effort for what is a very exclusive club… after all, there are only 100 or so three star Michelin restaurants and the World’s 50 Best restaurants, amounts to, well, 50 restaurants… and nearly half of those are also on Michelin’s list.
So after winning ultimate accolades and the admiration of your peers, what happens next? In the past, famous chefs rarely found it necessary to venture outside their own restaurants but these days it is the exception to the rule if they don’t. It is all to do with branding and attracting diners from beyond their immediate catchment area. With the arrival of Japanese customers in the Sixties, it was soon all the rage for three-star chefs to open branches in Tokyo but now they tend to be in Las Vegas or within other Casino Complexes in Macao, Singapore and Melbourne. Some chefs took the whole diffusion of their brands to extreme limits – Bernard Loiseau of Côte-d’Or in Burgundy actually sold vacuum packed dishes in Supermarkets with his face stencilled onto the packaging, something that Heston Blumenthal seems to have copied. Brand recognition can become brand erosion if you are perceived to be purely a creature of mass-market entertainment. Loiseau shot himself after he feared he was about to lose a star while Blumenthal seems to have retreated from public view to a farm in Provence, where he enthuses about the high level of gamma rays and the pH levels of the soil.
The idea of restaurant spinoffs began in Paris in 1987 with two-star Michel Rostang’s Bistrot d’à côté Flaubert. Arguably, Gavvers in Lower Sloane St was an earlier example of this trend in London as it was the diffusion restaurant of Le Gavroche when it moved from that destination to Mayfair in the early Eighties. The first L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon started in 2003 and his empire still has 12 spin off Atelier de Robuchons around the globe which maintain high standards while Alain Ducasse of Monaco or Daniel Boulud in New York are now international brands with a dozen or more establishments, though this doesn’t involve them putting on their chef whites. (One puzzled diner asked Paul Bocuse who cooked in his kitchen when he wasn’t there… “The same people who cook when I am there” he replied.) It is only a handful of top chefs, such as Parisians Pascal Barbot and Alain Passard, who remain doggedly in their kitchens with no thought of expansion.
On a recent trip to Paris, I tried three restaurants owned by three-star chefs – each of them with different objectives. The oldest was La Dame de Pic, a one star controlled by Anne-Sophie Pic from Maison Pic in Valence.
She is the third generation of her family to acquire the ultimate Michelin accolade in her restaurant south of Lyon. Her style is to cook with extreme delicacy, often using non-French herbs and spices with inspired results. A recent meal there was a master class in subtlety. La Dame de Pic opened in 2012 in Les Halles, just north of the Louvre and currently has a Michelin star. There is another one in London and Singapore is the next destination. Anne-Sofie Pic describes them as appetisers for her main restaurant with a number of her signature dishes. This reinforcement of the brand was such that when I asked for the name of the chef actually in the kitchen, it was politely refused. The food itself was certainly worthy of its Michelin star – a consommé of berlingots ravioli stuffed with smoked Brillat-Savarin cheese, Provencal asparagus both raw and roasted and red mullet with razor clams and shitake mushrooms with a potato cake.
Overall it was reminiscent of her main restaurant but at a third of the price, though not of the same profundity.
Yannick Alléno is the only chef to possess two three-star restaurants in France – Ledoyen in Paris and Le 1947 in Courchevel. He championed “Terroir Parisien” – a celebration of the best produce in and around Paris – and until recently had a couple of restaurants of the same name doing just that. More recently, he celebrated complex sauces made from the produce they adorned but his latest dishes rely on more classic combinations of the very best ingredients allowed to speak for themselves. Ledoyen is one of the most romantic restaurants in France, located in a nineteenth century classical mansion surrounded by a garden at the end of the Champs-Élysées, walking distance from the Crillon and opposite the Grand Palais. Alléno has quite a following, not just because of his film star looks and easy charm – for years he published YAM, the most influential chef’s magazine. He also has restaurants in Morocco and Asia but his latest effort in Paris – Allénothèque – is not aiming to be a feeder for his grander establishments.
Located in the Seventh Arrondissement inside a new development offering casual dining, there is space above for his wife Laurence Bonnel’s sculpture gallery. Allénothèque also stands out because of its superb wine cellars in the basement, which can be purchased or drunk on the premises for a small supplement: “Terroir Parisien was fantastic but this time I decided to focus on wine as well as food, so I wanted a really big selection to be offered at reasonable prices as generally, bistros do not have large selections of wine.”
Yannick doesn’t consider this to be a second restaurant, a term which he disapproves. “This is just for pleasure – it is normal to have a more accessible address but I prefer not to call them second restaurants – it is like saying you have a second child you don’t love as much as the first one or that it is a lesser place.” When I went for Sunday lunch, it was packed, with simple offerings of perfectly prepared and presented dishes of steamed red mullet, roast lamb with rice or a truffled celeriac cake with layers of ham.
Less than five minutes away on foot, within the recently renovated Hotel Lutetia, Marseille’s Gérald Passedat of Le Petit Nice has opened his first restaurant outside Provence – a simple seafood bistro again with modest prices.
Considered the greatest seafood chef in France, he is famous for his deconstruction of classic bouillabaisse into three separate dishes each representing different levels of aquatic life.
The bistro offers a more straightforward fish stew, but each and every component is perfectly cooked so that they also express their own distinctive flavours. Sardines are likewise beautifully presented on slices of toast slathered with “tomato butter”. The standout dish though, was the octopus fisherman’s pie, covered in mash potato with a dusting of pimento powder, priced at a reasonable €29. These dishes would never be found at his three-star on the Mediterrarean, but they are a good indication of his willingness to innovate with simple seafood ingredients. Passedat is the only one of these three chefs who is relatively unknown in Paris, so this is a useful calling card both to promote the brand as well as entice people with his adventurous approach. None of these places are particularly expensive, so the majority of diners are not the usual customers for three-star Michelin establishments. Except perhaps for publicity shots, none of this trio of chefs would ever be found in the kitchens of these restaurants, yet each of them manages to express their culinary style and values. There is a certain rigour among all three-star chefs about following instructions – one head chef at a three-star in the south of France was immediately sacked recently for serving an improved version of a dish on the menu without first clearing it.
This is hardly likely to occur at these establishments but with their reasonable price points, they offer a somewhat more relaxed and affordable option than is to be found in their culinary temples.
La Dame de Pic 20 rue du Louvre, Paris 1
www.anne-sophie-pic.com set menu from €59
Brasserie Lutetia 45 Blvd Raspail, Paris 6
www.hotellutetia.com main dish and dessert, €40
Allénothèque 57 rue de Grenelle Paris 7
www.allenotheque.fr three course lunch from €41