Chef Michel Guérard this year celebrates 40 years of three Michelin stars at Les Prés d’Eugénie, the restaurant and hotel in southwest France where he introduced his famous cuisine minceur. Less famous is the story behind Guérard’s revolutionary lighter, healthier take on traditional nouvelle cuisine, which had its beginnings in a hairdresser’s salon on Paris’s Avenue Montaigne, and which is now taking centre stage in a special two-night culinary package to mark the chef’s milestone anniversary.
The coiffeur who helped start it all, Monsieur Antonio, was a regular at Guérard’s legendary Le Pot-au-Feu. After Guérard pointed out to him that “the ladies who lunch wanted light, light, light...”, Antonio asked the chef to set up a snack bar in the salon. Later, in 1972, Guérard met Christine Barthélémy, daughter of the Biotherm founders, whose family owned the thermal spa village Eugénie-les-Bains. Together they created Les Prés d’Eugénie – and Guérard, in an effort to attract those Parisian “ladies who lunch”, set about developing a new type of cuisine to complement the spa.
“It triggered a wave of outrage in the culinary world,” says Guérard, a trim and sparkling-eyed octogenarian who claims to have once been a “greedy, overweight little devil”. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1976 under the heading “Hold the Butter”, and described the reaction to his endeavour as a total surprise. “It was when I became aware of how unique what I was doing was,” he tells me.
Les Prés d’Eugénie’s new 40th Michelin Celebration Package (from €1,395 for two people for two nights) includes a five-course dinner in the restaurant, lunch or dinner at Guérard’s more relaxed barn restaurant La Ferme aux Grives and a bottle of wine from the chef’s own vineyard, Château de Bachen. Chez Guérard, olive and canola oils have almost entirely replaced butter and cream, and saturated fatty acids have given way to mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. “We use salmon, tuna, sardine, mackerel. And food cooked in liquid is done so in Eugénie thermal water, of course!” he adds.
The 40th anniversary package dinner will include “Surprise Exquise” truffle zephyr as a cloud; a soft pillow of morels, wild mushrooms and asparagus tips; and half a lobster, roasted and lightly smoked in the hearth with a sweet onion. “In my kitchen I use lots of imagination, intuition and impertinence,” says Guérard. Long may it continue.
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