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Thread: WAITER! The Restaurant Scene, a Thread for Restaurants and Eateries

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  1. #41
    The Unrecognizable Genius of Guy Fieri

    By Jason Diamond, Sep 7, 2016

    It's supposedly 97 degrees and I'm grossly sweating through my shirt on a rooftop in the middle of Manhattan. From where I'm standing, New York City is all floating buildings and blue skies; no sidewalks overcrowded with tourists bumbling past self-important men in suits rushing to wherever they have to get to. All around me are grand buildings like St. Patrick's Cathedral, 30 Rock, and the Scribner Building, and the roof I'm on has the greenest grass I've ever seen in the city, a little pool, and four huge steel letters that spell out M-E-A-T with unlit light bulbs that I'm guessing will be turned on once the sun sets. I'm on this rooftop with a beer in one hand and a plate in the other that's piled with Andouille sausage and chicken. That's when I realize: Holy shit, I'm in Flavortown.

    I let that sink in as I take one last sip of the warm beer, and begin to follow a very tan woman who leads me to meet the ruler of this mythical land, Guy Fieri.

    I know a fair amount about Fieri. He was born Guy Ferry, and he changed his last name to honor his immigrant great-grandfather. I know he hates eggs—not necessarily eggs in his food, but actual eggs: scrambled, sunny side-up, omelets. I'm aware he's the subject of a fair amount of ridicule from some of our best restaurant critics and biggest celebrity chefs. Some people confuse him for a member of Smash Mouth or Insane Clown Posse. He's practically a meme walking among us. I get all that, I do. But I need to put all of that to the side of my overflowing plate for now.

    As I start talking with Fieri, who is in town to promote his new BBQ venture with Carnival Cruise Line, I think about all of that stuff, but I try to be a good interviewer and strip away any preconceived ideas I might have about him. He greets me with an enthusiastic fist bump. (Later I notice a nick on my knuckle oozing blood from where I grazed my hand on one of his impressive signet rings.) We strike up a conversation about Sammy Hagar. ("I was even more of a Hagar fan when he was just Hagar and not Van Hagar," he says.) It's hard not to look up above the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host's face and focus on his famous head of bleached blond hair. It sticks so straight up that you could imagine him lowering his head and charging toward a line.

    I have a small rush of panic that shoots through me—like when I worry I left the house with the faucet running or forgot to feed the cats—when I can't find his famous pair of white sunglasses, usually perched on the back of his head. My eyes dart desperately and I see them resting atop a bag nearby. There they are. The fear subsides and we continue.

    Here's where I admit I'm an unabashed fan of Fieri's television shows and that I definitely watch several hours of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives each week. "Because you have good taste," Fieri says when I make my confession. Of course, I tend to agree with Fieri, but when I tell any of my friends how much time I spend watching Triple D, and I see the look they give me in response, I feel the need to also mention that I really enjoyed reading Dan Fox's Pretentiousness, that I love to work to William Basinski's minimalist masterpiece The Disintegration Loops, or that my wife and I put money away every few months because we're on a mission to eat at Blue Hill at Stone Barns at least one time for each month on the calendar.

    I feel as if I have pretty decent taste by the standards of those strange enough to share them, yet when I mention that one of my favorite things to do is to sit on my couch with my dog and watch any of the Fieri shows that pretty much make up the bulk of the Food Network's programming, people tend to laugh—or worse, assume I'm hate-watching. "No," I tell them. I really enjoy watching Fieri drive around America in search of what he calls "real food for real people."

  2. #42
    ^^^ (Continued)

    I love food television. I'll watch Julia Child reruns or anything with Andrew Zimmern, plus Chef's Table and, of course, The Great British Bake Off. I also love Anthony Bourdain's many shows and books, and I understand why he'd find a person like Fieri such a personal affront. But while Bourdain looks at the bigger picture on his shows, examining the political economy of every city he visits, Fieri visits the real unknown. He takes that bright red convertible to little spots that are uniquely unexciting, places that aren't owned by celebrity chefs, and parks firmly outside of the hype stream that steers the bastions of good taste. His episodes don't have unifying themes. They don't even focus on one geographic area, a strangely democratizing choice when it comes to place and space. Not one city is elevated among the rest, even by editing. Yet once Fieri shows up, all of his fans are in the know—and more often than not, they tend to remember.

    There's this place called Sidecar on the southern end of Park Slope. It opened in 2006, and I'd have to imagine it's considered older by Brooklyn standards since good restaurants don't tend to last a decade around there thanks to rising rents, ticket-happy health department employees, and the finicky tastes of New Yorkers (not to mention a host of personal dramas that factor into a restaurant's longevity). I've been going there since around the time they started serving food and drinks, and from the fried chicken and club sandwiches to the "Hangover Soup" they serve at brunch (it has saved my life more than once), I've never been disappointed in a visit to Sidecar. It's a late-night place, the kind of spot chefs go to when they get off work and want to grab a few beers at two in the morning.

    Yet there it was, resting prominently on the bar's chalkboard for at least a year: a hyper-realistic drawing of Guy Fieri. Having seen the episode where Fieri stands outside of Sidecar and says that brothers John and Bart DeCoursy are "rockin' the neighborhood" with the best Cuban sandwich (disclaimer: I've never had the Cuban at Sidecar, so I can't vouch for the validity of the statement), I finally had enough drinks at the bar one night to ask why the hell they've kept that thing up so long. The bartender looked at me and smiled. "A lot of us pay our rent because Guy Fieri tourists come here to eat."

    Yes, Guy Fieri tourists. They're a thing. Even in New York City, a place with never ending things to do and places to eat, has benefitted by the constant loop of Fieri's shows driving foot traffic into restaurants. They get a leg up from the boost. All across the country, restauranteurs can attest to the "Fieri Effect" that starts when the Bleached One features a place on his show. "They told us, 'We can do a lot for your sales,'" Ann Kim, co-owner of Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis, told MinnPost last year. "We had no idea." Another restaurant owner reported his sales were up 500% after Fieri rolled up in his red '68 Camaro.

    As somebody who travels quite often, I'll admit to have taken a few of Fieri's suggestions and enjoyed the occasional thrice-fried monstrosity when out of town. I can't always follow the Eater Heatmap, so I take the leap.

    Beyond all the jokes about his appearance and the fact that, no matter how much I wanted to think otherwise, the New York Times' Pete Wells was totally right about the place being truly terrible (even Fieri seems to know that), I know that Fieri is a smart chef. You watch reruns of the second season of Food Network Star that he won, which aired ten years ago starting this past April, and you realize he's got skills. A French-trained chef with a Michelin star would probably rather feed whatever Fieri makes to dogs, but that's never been who he was cooking for. The art of cooking was never what he was interested in.

    "I was pretty driven with what I wanted to do," Fieri tells me. His dad, his hero, helped him lay out his plan at an early age. Fieri never wanted to be Thomas Keller or Daniel Boulud. "I wanted to work in corporate restaurants," he says, repeating something I've heard him say proudly a thousand times in various interviews. But it's a line that speaks volumes about Fieri's personality: He had a plan this entire time. Fieri's food is not an art, but a craft—practiced with care but not pretension. And yet he takes every plate piled high with burgers and fries as seriously as you might an entry in the Bocuse d'Or. Simple food—diverse American Food, in all styles, made by Americans—is Fieri's rallying cry and religion.

    "Real food for real people," I think to myself as I listen to him talk. It's so damn simple, yet totally brilliant. It's the food version of bipartisanship in politics: You can't make fun of it because then you're a classist snob, but you also have to take it with a grain of salt because it's really perfectly pandering. And that's what Fieri intrinsically understands. He knows he's not Oprah or Ellen. He's not a good-looking late night talk show host like Jimmy Fallon. He'll never be America's sweetheart. His first job is to get viewers, and he does that by making everything super simple. He knows more viewers are going to tune in to see him talk about good pulled pork (for what it's worth, Fieri knows a good deal about BBQ—enough to get him inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame) rather than some young hot shot chef in Los Angeles talk about his experimental cooking with compost.

    You can watch his Food Network audition tape from a decade ago; it's clear that he's stuck to that plan all of this time—and it has made him incredibly wealthy. He's also helped out a number of small, independent businesses along the way; no matter what you want to say about him, it is hard to argue with his success.

    As our interview winds down, I notice how many handlers Fieri has around him—including his publicist, his manager from William Morris, another publicist, and a few other folks with clipboards. I know the drill. I've done a few of these before. These people are here because I might ask some questions to trip up their client, to get some sort of funny quote out of him, or to press him into a mold that I walked in with in mind. The media wants him to be a clown, to perform the sort of comedy that comes at his expense. A journalist scheduled for an interview after mine told me, "I just want him to say something dumb."

    Yet Fieri is articulate and engaging. He's got his spiel. He curses. He talks about business—not like a person with an M.B.A., but like a person who has learned what he knows by paying attention and doing the work himself. He's off the cuff and unscripted, but he's genuine, clever, and warm. You can call Guy Fieri a lot of things, and by the end of our brief time together I know that "smart" is definitely one of them. How many of us are as resolute in our self-knowledge, in our personal aesthetic, and in our plans for life and work? Fieri is more confident and assured than I am—and certainly more well liked. I shake his hand when I turn off the recorder.

    I watch his shows, often claiming that they help me zone out after a long day at the office—comfort TV, if you will. Just about everybody has a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But it dawns on me that even I've been taking Fieri for granted. I'm not yet giving him the credit he deserves. When I get up to leave, he gestures at my Chicago Cubs hat and asks if I'm really from Chicago. I know it's suddenly trendy to wear a Cubs hat now that they're finally good, but yes, I answer proudly. "I am." He stares me dead in the eyes and tells me that my hometown is his favorite food city. He's probably told people from Boston to Seattle the same thing for all I know, but the conviction with which he says it rings true. My heart leaps with the places he names off—a little Cuban spot, a random Greek joint, not somewhere cool like The Publican or Longman and Eagle.

    Guy Fieri's on the ground, eating with locals like locals, never giving a thought to Yelp but rather turning to somebody's grandpa and asking about the counter stool they've occupied for 30 years. The shades he wears don't shield his eyes from the sun; they're there because his star shines fucking bright. The spikey hair, the flames on his collared shirts, the over-accessorizing? That's all part of his plan, but also part of a diversion from the reality of his empire: that despite everything, Guy Fieri might actually be a genius.

  3. #43
    From GQ online - - -

    Lyon Is the Real Capital of French Food

    By Brett Martin

    March 12, 2018

    Meet the ultimate second city. Long ignored by tourists but adored by chefs as a mecca, Lyon remains France's great gastronomic secret. Our food critic, Brett Martin, made his first pilgrimage and found a place perfectly poised and bursting with fatty, rich deliciousness, both new and old.

    “I can't believe I'm here,” my friend Riad Nasr said as we headed toward Paul Bocuse's flagship restaurant, L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, outside Lyon. Riad had worn a look of something approaching religious bliss since we'd arrived in the city. Riad is a veteran of Daniel Boulud's kitchen and the founding chef, with Lee Hanson, of New York's Balthazar, Pastis, and Minetta Tavern.

    In search of inspiration before opening a new restaurant, he had come back to the Holy Land—not just the Holy Land, but to Lyon, its most sacred city. And now we were on the way to see the Pope himself, Bocuse, who, even before his death in January, just shy of 92, had passed into a kind of immortal gastronomic sainthood. We were not mere diners; we were pilgrims. “I think I'm going to cry,” Riad said. He is a New Yorker, of Lebanese and Trinidadian descent, raised in Montreal. But he had come home to France.

    You remember France, don't you?

    It's the one north of Spain, south of Denmark. Somewhat famous in cooking circles, back in the day. Sure, culinary pilgrims have been more likely, in recent years, to trek to Copenhagen, to San Sebastián, to Bologna, Lima, Penang, or Chengdu. And, sure, they have been dining in restaurants more explicitly influenced by those destinations in their own hometowns. French food spent those years as an afterthought: stodgy, old-fashioned, and representative of all the things those more fashionable cuisines were breaking from. That's okay. France didn't mind. France waited patiently.

    And the wheel turned. All over America, diners and restaurateurs have been rediscovering the pleasures of the bistro, the brasserie, and the classical French repertoire. Those looking for further immersion might find themselves buying tickets for Paris, but those looking for deeper roots should take the two-hour high-speed train ride south, to where the Saône River is absorbed by the Rhône before rolling on toward the sea, to where the modern food world was born and where it continues to evolve.

    That is: Lyon is the city to go eat in right now because it's been the city to go eat in for at least 100 years.

    “France has never been trendy,” says Boulud, who grew up on a small farm outside Lyon, where his parents still live. (Granted, it's a small farm, now with a tennis court and a walk-in fridge in the barn.) Boulud remembers his days as an apprentice in the city, how each morning at the market he would see Paul Bocuse and a dozen other chefs making their daily search for ingredients. It was then, and remains, a place singularly obsessed with dining, even by French standards, a city of charcutiers, cooks, butchers, cheese and fish mongers, bakers of bread and pastry alike.

    “That tradition is not going anywhere,” says Boulud. “But at the same time, there's a changing of the guard.” Indeed, to dine in Lyon today is to see a city at the inflection point between old and new, a place balanced between the still-living culture it created long ago and the new world that it wrought, all of it fueled by a civic belief in food as daily sacrament, a creed so deeply bred as to seem almost casual.

    It is a city of unexpected views and sparkling water. It can feel like a miniature Paris, with its bridges, its Métro, its Haussmann-style apartment buildings looming over the stone banks of the river. There is even a markedly Eiffel-ish tower atop Fourvière, built defiantly in 1892 (taller than the original, locals will tell you…if you count the hill) and now used as a TV antenna. It has the energy of a college town; thousands of students flow in and out each year, to attend the University of Lyon. You see them in the evenings gathered on the sidewalk outside wine shops and cafés, or down by the Saône, sprawling with their backpacks and hoodies around haphazard picnics of wine, tallboys, baguettes, and cheese.

    But as urbane as Lyon may feel, it's the bounty that lies just outside of it, in every direction, that has made it a culinary mecca. “Here you have one foot in the city and one in the countryside,” says Greg Stawowy, who, with his wife, Yun Lee, moved to Lyon and opened a small restaurant called Le Suprême two years ago. “You have mountains, you have lakes, you have wineries.” Lyon is near enough to the vineyards of Burgundy, the fisheries of the Mediterranean, the pastures of the Rhône-Alpes—and also to the capital, with its flow of talent, ideas, and rich diners.

    It was all this that made Lyon the center of the radical transformation known as nouvelle cuisine. But it's useful to start with what that movement grew out of. If you know anything about nouvelle cuisine, it's probably that it was responsible for “lightening up” the leaden, over-sauced French food of Escoffier. “Light,” you learn quickly, while, say, staring down a lobe of foie gras the size of a potato at Bocuse's restaurant, is a deeply relative term.

    To orient yourself, you start at a bouchon—Lyon's local mash-up of bistro, café, and brasserie, the porkiest, offaliest, Frenchiest institution there is. They are not all identical, though I have to admit the details swirl together in a fog of fat and Chartreuse. I see tables laden with great mustardy salads of beef snout and pigs' ears; tranches of pâté; platters of deep-fried tripe; dishes of sausage and lentils, sweating age and fat—all the glories of cuisine bourgeoise. I see a quenelle de brochet, drowned in Nantua crayfish sauce, and a shoulder of lamb glistening as the waiter deftly separates its muscles tableside at Daniel et Denise. I see a sizzling dish of kidneys roasted with cream sauce—on some days my favorite French food, if not food, period—at Le Bouchon des Filles, with its raw wooden barn beams and bordello red walls. I see three businessmen sitting next to me at a communal table at La Meunière, tucking napkins into their shirts and calmly and efficiently making their way through two bottles of wine and a battered cocotte of veal blanquette, gingerly wiping their mouths and returning to work in the time it takes me to struggle through an appetizer of pâté en croûte. I see a framed print there, too, of a fat swine seated at a bouchon, gorging himself on platters of other hogs. I feel a shudder of recognition.

    This is the food from which nouvelle cuisine sprang, as both inspiration and opposition. You know the movement's effects, even if you don't know you do. It is one of those revolutions, so sweeping, so fundamentally altering of all that comes after, that it becomes paradoxically hard to see what the big deal was at the time. It is the Sopranos of culinary turning points, the Pet Sounds.

    Henri Gault, who, along with his partner, Christian Millau, helped popularize the idea of nouvelle cuisine in their Gault & Millau guide, a direct challenge to the old guard of Michelin, famously laid out the movement's “Ten Commandments.” Among them: “Thou shalt not overcook. Thou shalt lighten thy menu. Thou shalt be inventive.” It was a revolution on the plate but also in the kitchen, a bold assertion of the chef, not as mere technician or worker bee but as autonomous artist.

    When you get a plate of food that has been assembled in the kitchen, by a chef, instead of tableside, you are experiencing the long tail of the revolution that Paul Bocuse and his compatriots started. Likewise, when you're served a piece of fish cooked anything less than well-done. Or a sauce that is thickened by reduction instead of flour. Or food prepared in a food processor.

    The legacy is there in the burst of new restaurants opened by young chefs, even those as influenced by the goings-on in Brooklyn, Copenhagen, and Barcelona as at a bouchon. It's in a silky fillet of Alpine trout over white beans and a puree of nearly raw cauliflower, served for lunch one fall day at one of two seats at the tiny counter of Le Kitchen Café, which Connie Zagora opened near the university last year with her partner, Laurent Ozan, a baker. She had worked at the Ritz in Paris, but in the capital, she told me, it was all “métro, boulot, dodo”—subway, work, sleep—a condition that many a New York chef would recognize well. They asked themselves the emblematic question of their generation of chefs, “What kind of place do I want?” and went looking for the right city to live, checking out Toulouse, Marseille, and others before arriving in Lyon. “We wanted a city but smaller, near the countryside, with young people,” Zagora said.

    They quickly found they were not alone. Young chefs from all around France were arriving, drawn by the same things and opening small, idiosyncratic restaurants: like Bijouterie, which serves bright, creative tasting menus. Or Les Apothicaires, which blends global influences into its modernist café food. In a city long ruled by the old-fashioned Toques Blanches guild, the new generation has formed its own informal club—one that some call the Bandes Des Gourmands.

    “We're really close. We share recipes, we share producers. There are no secrets, like there were in the old days,” says Tabata Mey, the Brazilian-born chef who studied at the Institut Paul Bocuse before opening Les Apothicaires with her husband. In rebuke of the most venerated of French restaurant traditions—the nearly universal August vacation—several take turns closing their kitchens one month later. I came to think of them as the Septemberists.

  4. #44
    ^^^ (Continued)

    Not everything new need be revolutionary, though. Somewhere in between the old and the new lies Le Suprême—opened two years ago by Stawowy and Lee. The two met while cooking at Boulud's Restaurant Daniel, in New York. He had one of those French culinary childhoods that seem to have one foot in the 19th century—gathering mushrooms in the forest; attending the birth of livestock in the spring, their slaughter in the fall—even if he was born in 1979; she is from Seoul. They married and moved to Paris, where, as if in a children's book titled French Chef, they both found work at the Eiffel Tower. Eventually they felt the pull of opening their own place. Boulud nudged them toward Lyon, to a space on Cours Gambetta, and became an investor. It's spare but comfortable; you eat under the gaze of a giant photo of a chicken. Stawowy and Lee may be young guns, but they are, at heart, conservatives. Their food is clean, modern but reverent. The gâteau de foie blond is a light-as-sponge-cake confection of chicken livers whipped with crème fraîche, cream, and flour—a take on an Alain Chapel classic that relies, Stawowy says, on using Bresse-chicken livers. “You can't just make it anywhere,” he says. The dish for which the restaurant is named—suprême de volaille—is a breast of that same precious bird, napped in a blanquette and served next to an amber tuile that looks like a roasted onion but reveals itself as a roulade of potato and leek. It's a take on Lyon's most identifiable export—lyonnaise potatoes—as witty, inventive, and delicious as any of its nouvelle forefathers.

    But it was The Source—not just the new Lyon—that Riad and I were after, and so it was those forefathers that beckoned. That's how we ended up in a cab twisting up the left bank of the Saône, past cafés and bars overlooking the river, through wooded patches that brought to mind the Hudson Valley and toward the place that brought Riad close to tears.

    At the Altar of Bocuse

    It's named: L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, but everybody calls it simply “Bocuse.” This can be confusing, given that everything else in Lyon seems to bear some variation of that name. The man himself may have withdrawn in the final years of his life, but, even in death, he is hardly absent. His name adorns restaurants, markets, and schools. Close your eyes and imagine the cartoon face of France: puffy eyelids; imperious beak; thin, supercilious lips; toque rising above like a Doric column. Now, open your eyes, and if you are in Lyon, it is likely that face will be staring back at you: from the sides of buses, the walls of bouchons, in mural form, four or five stories high. It would be insufficient to say that Paul Bocuse is the papal city's Pope; he is also its Mao, its Ayatollah, its Vishnu.
    Or as Abbie Hoffman wrote (after a stint traveling across Europe cadging meals with a forged Playboy credential): “Ego seems to have been invented for Bocuse. He is the Muhammad Ali of pots and pans.” At L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, which has held three Michelin stars since 1965, he appears in as many guises as skeletons in Grateful Dead merchandise. He's there in the courtyard where the cab drops you off, and staring imperiously from a set of murals depicting the history of French cuisine. These are as dense and filled with gnostic symbology as church tapestries: Here is a tower of crayfish, in honor of Fernand Point's legendary crayfish gratin; here is a statue of Mickey Mouse, standing on a platter in Bocuse's son's hands, representing the family's restaurants at Epcot Center. You grab the toque of a shining Bocuse-shaped door handle to pull yourself into the restaurant, a tufted, gilded, mirrored jewel box, smaller and warmer than all the fuss led you to expect.

    Not far from the kitchen, on the way to the restrooms, is the gift shop, where you can purchase a bottle of Paul Bocuse XO Cognac for $198, among other mementos.

    It is easy to make fun of, or be bummed out by, the collision of commercialism and grandiosity. I chose to embrace it as a way of joyfully demolishing the myth of snooty French reserve. Somehow it's easier to feel comfortable in that grandmother's parlor of a dining room once you've tramped through the kitchen and taken a photo with the chef de cuisine, later to be presented to you in a commemorative sleeve, as though you've just come off the log flume.

    And Bocuse isn't a cynical experience. It doesn't serve cynical food. Granted, that may be an extraordinary thing to say about a $110 bowl of soup: the famous Soupe aux Truffes Noires V.G.E, the initials being those of the French president for whom it was created. This is a soup that comes not only under a dome of perfect puff pastry, but with its own pamphlet. But I will crave that consommé, with its flotsam of black truffles and tiny cubes of foie gras in each spoonful, every time I eat ramen for the rest of my days. Likewise, the rouget barbet en écailles de pommes de terre, the sweet white fish sheathed in a chain mail of perfect potato “scales.” Or Point's crayfish gratin. Here were all the lusty pleasures of the bouchon—refined, inverted, dressed in truffles, and served on a golden platter, without losing their primal power.

    None more so than the volaille de Bresse en vessie. I knew all about this dish before it arrived at my table. It is an emblematic nouvelle cuisine showstopper. I'd even watched Daniel Boulud prepare it in his kitchen in New York once—sweating and cursing as he and his executive chef wrestled a Bresse chicken into a pig's bladder, as though stuffing an oversize foot into a rubber sock. Protected and pressurized therein, the chicken would bob in simmering stock until it emerged, infused with the flavor of the truffles stuffed under its skin and with its own intensified juices.

    It is, essentially, a primitive form of sous vide or pressure cooking. “A similar effect can be achieved by wrapping chicken in aluminum foil,” says Wikipedia, to which I can definitively answer: No. No, it cannot. Because for all my confident familiarity, I was unprepared for what appeared tableside at L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges: a great swollen balloon, pale and veiny as Darth Vader's unmasked head. It wobbled queasily as the bow-tied waiter presented the platter, looking even more glaringly homely in the context of the overstuffed, gilded dining room. “Smile,” our captain whispered to the waiter in French. “You're holding a masterpiece.” He received the bladder on his gueridon, produced a fork and knife, and with strokes so rapid and deft I could barely see them, excised the chicken, leaving it slippery and wrinkled on the cutting board. I watched the delivery and birth of my two daughters, and those were the moments I flashed on: fast, squelchy, gross, and thrilling, albeit with considerably less complaining on the part of the bladder. (Yes, I have been smacked for that joke.) The chicken inside embodied that perfect French balance of manipulated and natural, tasting equally of kitchen and barnyard.

    Part of the pleasure, too, was knowing I was having one of the foundational experiences in Western cuisine. Remember, at the heart of nouvelle cuisine was the conviction that food is art, the chef an artist. There is a reason that people are drawn to stand, in person, before the Mona Lisa. Even today—when the average computer screen offers a clearer and closer view than you could ever get amid the scrum of tourists; even when you've seen it so many times, in so many guises, that it's become a terrible cliché—the object exerts an inexorable pull. We take that for granted in most areas of art: the ability to put on a record, open a book, download a movie, walk into a museum and experience the artistic achievements of the past. The culinary equivalent is far more elusive. That's what makes Bocuse's restaurant precisely what snarky commenters sometimes try to label it: a “museum.” It is no insult. It is sublime.

  5. #45
    ^^^ (Continued)

    The Old “Best” Is the New Best

    But there is also another way to experience the living manifestation of nouvelle cuisine's giants.

    There's a poster that hangs throughout Lyon depicting the founding chefs of nouvelle cuisine arranged in the poses of Da Vinci's The Last Supper. In the Jesus spot, of course, is Bocuse.

    But he is not nouvelle's only deity. Among his equals in the kitchen, if not necessarily the publicity department, were Jean and Pierre Troisgros, brothers who worked alongside Bocuse at La Pyramide and then took over their father's restaurant, across the street from the train station in Roanne, an hour's trip north. From the beginning, the restaurant was noted for its spirit of restless innovation—all the more so after Jean's death, when Pierre's son Michel, who had worked at Chez Panisse, among other stops, came home to cook with his father and eventually take over. (Another son, Claude, owns the great restaurant Olympe, in Rio de Janeiro.)

    Astonishingly, the Troisgros family never owned the building that housed their restaurant in Roanne; for nearly 90 years, despite numerous attempts to buy the property, they were renters. Last year, they finally moved, settling on a property 15 minutes up the road, in the village of Ouches. At the same time, Michel decided to step back and allow his own eldest son, an intense 30-year-old named César, to take the lead in the kitchen.

    You now approach Maison Troisgros by winding through pastures, tall hedges, and stone walls, stared at impassively by the brawny white Charolais cattle of which proud gentrymen used to commission portraits. It is a dramatic entry: through a stone gate, past the chicken coop, through a long, low-ceilinged hallway on either side of which you glimpse the wine cellar through arched windows, and finally into a vaulted lobby that resembles the inside of a haystack. There were two existing buildings on the property—an ancient stone millhouse and a large, somewhat gaudy Italianate villa that is now a small hotel. The Troisgroses' brilliant stroke was to build a dining room between the two—a single-story hallway of steel, exposed ducts, and floor-to-ceiling glass, interrupted by a huge tree growing out of its center. At once elegant and industrial, bucolic and brutish, it brings to mind James Turrell's art sheds in Marfa, Texas. During the day, the space is flooded with light; at night, viewed from outside, where you may have gone to enjoy an eau-de-vie by the fire pits, the glass disappears and the people inside look like ghosts dining among the trees. It's spectacular.

    Anybody who has ever spent time in a cramped restaurant kitchen may be even more impressed by the one here—a vast, open space with hidden vents above and rows of gleaming counters below. If it weren't for the windows, overlooking a horse pasture, it would feel like the deck of a spaceship. Michel has a Picasso body: shortish and barrel-chested. His son César is also small, but wiry, bespectacled, and bearded. He looks a little like the college kid who would insist on reading you his Marxist poetry. If there's Oedipal drama afoot, it's not on display. César is, of course, blessed by his last name—the luckiest 30-year-old chef in the world—but he also carries the kind of easy authority that sends ripples through a brigade of older, more battle-scarred cooks as he moves around the kitchen.

    He's also not afraid to flirt with sacrilege. “I don't think Bocuse was the culinary leader,” he says when I ask why the two restaurants look so radically different. “He was the leader with the media, with journalists. The genius of communication.”

    “The philosophy of our family is change,” says Michel, more diplomatically.

    It occurred to me that Bocuse had in fact lifted a great burden from his compatriots. By cornering the market on preserving and representing the old guard, he had allowed them to grow and change. What that means in 2018 is a menu and service strongly influenced by the modern international style pioneered by Noma and other Scandinavian restaurants while remaining unmistakably French at heart. As summer slid into fall, there was a delicate tart of apples and cèpes; a “red” dish (monochrome riffs are all the rage these days) that balanced the acidity of mulberries and strawberries with bitter radicchio and fingers of cold pigeon breast; a meaty knot of sweetbreads, served with a roulade of eggplant poached in dashi; a trompe l'oeil egg for dessert with a delicate casing like Magic Shell and a vivid yellow “yolk” of mango cream.

    It's as though Bocuse and Troisgros split the nouvelle cuisine playbook. Bocuse got the recipes, and the Troisgroses—freed from the duty to act as a culinary museum and blessed with the energy of heirs—took everything else: the creativity, the experimentation, the embrace of new technology, the revolutionary spirit.

    Not that they've lost all the recipes. The dish above all others that made the Troisgros name famous was saumon à l'oseille, a barely cooked fillet of wild salmon, dressed in a fresh and buttery sauce made of sorrel. It's one of those Pet Sounds dishes, hard to appreciate as remarkable unless you try to imagine what it might have been like to have never tasted salmon any way but well-done before. There was a period when Michel refused to make the dish anymore, but, as documented on Netflix's Chef's Table, César recently persuaded him to allow it back, upon request.

    I have to admit that I was among those who sheepishly made the request. The dish arrived looking precisely as it does in the pages of The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean & Pierre Troisgros, published in America in 1978, but otherwise fit seamlessly into the rest of lunch, slotted between a glossy and delicate white raviolo made from milk skin, hiding a velouté of mussels, and a ruby-hearted lamb chop surrounded by tiny mushrooms and a dab of curry.

    On the way out, I passed an elderly, stooped man being fussed over by both staff and visitors as he, too, headed for the exit. Somehow, automatically, I also shook his hand as we passed. Only once he was out the door did I realize it was Pierre Troisgros himself, leaving after dinner. What did he think of the new direction of the restaurant bearing his name, I asked his son. “He likes the audacity,” Michel said.

    Have I been gushing? What can I say? In 1968, Christian Millau, one of nouvelle cuisine's first and most influential proponents, declared of Maison Troisgros: “I have discovered the best restaurant in the world.” Half a century later, I floated out of Ouches thinking the very same thing.

    Brett Martin is a GQ correspondent.


 
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