Gastronomes are looking beyond the pandemic of a French fine-dining revolution

Chef Yannick Alléno previously served a € 395 menu with langoustines and foie gras at his three-star Michelin restaurant near the Champs-Elysées.

But while France is preparing to allow restaurants to reopen for outdoor service next week after a six-month closure, it will only serve burgers at its wine bar in small portions. at the price.

That a superstar chef like Alléno, whose stable high-end restaurants from Courchevel to Marrakesh hold more than a dozen Michelin stars, is a changing strategy that focuses on the challenges that faced by France good restaurants as they seek to recover from perspectives of coronavirus disease.

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

Such temples of French gastronomy have long catered to wealthy foreign tourists, who are happy to pay more than € 1,000 for a meal for two as long as they can experience. the art of living in France. Despite international travel being severely curtailed by the pandemic disease, such customers are not expected to return for long.

Yannick Alléno runs high-end restaurants from Paris to Courchevel and Marrakesh holding a dozen Michelin stars combined © Francois Durand / Getty

Attracting locals is the new challenge, as well as retaining employees, many of whom have left the sector and the notoriously challenging working conditions. Many restaurants were also filled with many debts after taking out state -guaranteed guarantees to end the crisis.

“I have three years of struggle ahead,” Alléno said, adding that half of the group’s € 4m cash reserves are spent. “For three-star restaurants, a lot will die.”

His premier restaurant is used to generate more than three-quarters of the revenue from foreign diners, mostly from Asia and the US. Since there is also a small opening point that they don’t have, the doors will remain closed until September. For now Alléno will be experimenting with informal locations as he plans an overhaul that seeks to drag fine-dining into the 21st century.

“Everything has to change,” he said, citing the title of the book he co-wrote on lockdown. In it, he called for a change in everything from the service style (more warm, more personal) to the staff (more innovative and family friendly).

France high gastronomy traces its roots back to the vision of 19th-century chefs such as Auguste Escoffier and Marie-Antoine Carême, who created a cuisine based on multiple sauces and meticulous-always theatrical-service. For decades it has been considered the most abundant in the world and has become an integral part of French birth.

But its popularity has disappeared in recent decades thanks to competition first from the light of molecular gastronomy and then the wall-backed Nordic style. Ingon French haute cuisine lost land, it became more expensive, placing it inaccessible to most.

“The pandemic reveals that the business model of high-end restaurants in France would not function without tourists,” said Joerg Zipprick, co-founder of the La Liste group, which is among the tallest restaurants in the whole world.

“It’s a new development. That used to be… A local doctor or manager would go to places to celebrate a special occasion. Not anymore.”

Zipprick says that for top chefs, most of whom have spent the past year experimenting with takeouts and food kits, success depends on their willingness to adapt.

A customer took his order from Baieta in Paris

Baieta restaurant in Paris. Many top chefs experimented with takeouts and food kits last year © Franck Fife / Getty

Diners don’t want confusing and experimental dishes on their return, he predicts, but instead want to eat a good meal in a nice restaurant with friends and family.

“There are no more technical things or foods that require a lengthy explanation from the waiter about the fermentation process. People don’t want their food to be a work of art,” Zipprick said.

The last time French cooking was repeated was in the 1970s when chefs like Paul Bocuse and the Troisgros brothers created it. new kitchen. The event, less abundant and calm than the fine dining that preceded it, put fresh and high-quality ingredients at the forefront and the service became informal.

Alléno believes leading restaurants should be targeted to tailor experiences by talking first with clients about the occasion for their dinner, guests and their preferences.

This “concierge service” approach will allow menus to be better planned, improving the customer experience and economy for the restaurant.

“If I knew I only had three people eat langoustine on a given night otherwise I wouldn’t have to order six kilos just in case,” he said. “It really changes things for the kitchen.”

Some are even more radical. Daniel Humm’s three-star Eleven Madison Park in New York will no longer serve meat and seafood when it also opens next month, as the Swiss chef seeks to show that he is consistent and environmentally conscious food can be in harmony with luxury.

However, Éric Fréchon, the star chef with three Michelins behind the Epicure restaurant at the five-star Le Bristol Paris hotel, failed to anticipate the radical change.

“Things will be back to normal,” Fréchon said, citing the hotel’s restaurants with a significant local client base. “People miss the experience of high gastronomy eventually they are eager to return. ”

Fréchon said he will continue some innovations during the coronavirus, including a 1,390 “gastronomy and to bed” package sold as an overnight staycation for locals to have dinner in their suite or room. at the hotel.

“For New Year’s Eve we had 60 servers running back and forth in the rooms, it was really hard,” he said. “But it allowed us to reach new clients who probably wouldn’t have dared to go to a three-star restaurant. Now we have to keep it.”

Further reporting by Domitille Alain in Paris

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