A Conversation with Guy Savoy about the Magic of Cuisine and the Relocation of His Paris Restaurant

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With Chef Guy Savoy

An unexpected trip to Paris a few years ago did not allow time to obtain reservations at Guy Savoy. I was disappointed and had given up when the concierge at the Park Hyatt Vendome slipped a note under the door during the night informing us that he had done the impossible and snagged a reservation for us. Unfortunately I never met Chef Savoy at the restaurant on that visit, even on a subsequent meal he was not in and I thought that maybe I was never meant to meet him. Last September while dining at Maido restaurant in Lima, Peru in a room full of stars (of the culinary kind), Chef Albert Adria took me over to meet Chef Guy Savoy! Chef Savoy was in town with his family and enjoying the Nikkei meal at lunch.

We had a great conversation and I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email a few weeks later suggesting we meet in Paris or Las Vegas next time and continue our conversation. Guy Savoy is a very charming, elegant man and a great conversationalist. You can sense the energy around him, his love of life, people and of course food and wine. Very informed, poised, energetic, and excitable as well, like when he was telling me the story behind his move to the new location and how the decor and location along with the food were going to make it a unique restaurant. Savoy is skilled at building a rapport with people in his conversation and with his cuisine and quickly establishes a relationship, which brings people back again and again.

Unconventional in his approach as evidenced by his modern art collection and minimalist yet elegant decor in his restaurants juxtaposed with classic techniques in his process of transforming seasonal ingredients into magic on plates. He says “Cooking is the art of instantly transforming historical products into pleasure.” It is evident in our discourse that it is his passion for his calling that translates into this magical transformation of products in his creations.

Savoy reiterates many times in our conversation that ‘cuisine is magic ‘and it is evident he works with this mantra. Anyone proposing a gastronomic journey to Paris immediately considers Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Ducasse, and Robuchon the temples of gastronomy as worthy of a visit. The aforementioned are all brilliant chefs and the experience of dining at any of their restaurants renews your passion for masterfully created delicious food. A visit to the restaurant Guy Savoy is a must do for any gastronome and having experienced his cuisine  you invariably go back for more of his magic which though comes at a high price.

Guy Savoy has spent forty five years honing his craft and building a loyal following in France and internationally. He trained in the best kitchens of France like Maison Troigros in Roanne, Lassere in Paris, L’Oasis in La Napoule, Le Lion d’Or in Genève taking over in 1977 from Bernard Loiseau at La Barriere de Clichy. In 1980 he opened his eponymous restaurant receiving his first star in a year and the second in 1985. In 1987 he moved his restaurant from Rue Duret to 18, Rue Troyon in Paris. This year it will move yet again to its new home at the Hôtel de la Monnaie in the heart of Paris. The restaurant was awarded a third star in 2002 putting him in the top tier of chefs in France. Savoy’s other restaurants in Paris are Le Chiberta (one star), Les Bouquinistes, and l’Atelier Maitre Albert. These offer diners to savor his cuisine at different price points as dropping a large bundle of euros at Guy Savoy is not for everyone. In Las Vegas his eponymous restaurant has earned Forbes five star rating and many other accolades. A number of well-known chefs like Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, Richard Ekkebus, and Alex Guarnaschelli have trained and worked in his kitchen. Recently he closed his operation in Singapore but has an outpost in Doha, Qatar that has quite a following in the region.

There is even a Guy Savoy app available that lets you to try to replicate ten iconic dishes created by this esteemed French chef. The step by step instructions let you believe that you have acquired the necessary skills and techniques to do so. Bon Chance!

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Chef Savoy and Chef de Cuisine Mathieu Chartron in the kitchen at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

At his Las Vegas restaurant at Caesars Palace, there is a Krug table in the kitchen that seats six people where, if he is in town, he guides guests through a spectacular dinner with wine pairings along with Olivier Krug, the director of Krug Champagnes. A customized I pad app assists guests through the pleasant task of choosing up to a dozen courses. All this at a cost that ranges from $500 for the basic menu to $5000 per guest as in the case for the Vegas Uncork’d Bon Appetit event last week. He has several authored cookbooks as well one for the home cook that presents nostalgic dishes of his past and one about the bistro fare served at his less formal restaurants.

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The Krug Table, the most exclusive table in Las Vegas!

There is magic and finesse in every mouthful at Guy Savoy no doubt. It’s not only the truffle laden artichoke soup, the colors of caviar but even the humble “Myriad of Peas” dish that is etched on your memory. My meal ended a long time ago but the flavors and taste linger on my palate to this day along with the memory of the sprint to the restaurant to make it to one lunch reservation on time.

What did you expect from life when you started your journey in the kitchen? Was there a plan or a dream?

No there was no plan as such and everything just happened along the way. Things fell into place by themselves and I could not ask for more. Even today I don’t think about that I just keep going. I never thought about moving my restaurant in Paris to Hotel de la Monnaie as I am doing this year. The opportunity came via a guest in my Paris restaurant who told me that he would like to show me a unique place in Paris that is looking for a three star (Michelin) restaurant to contract with. I went to look at the place with no idea of what I would see. The moment I saw the place I knew I had to be there. At first we were ten chefs in contention for the spot after that only three made it to the next selection. When I got the call that I was selected I was in disbelief and very emotional. I know it will be one of the most beautiful restaurants in Paris and I am very excited about the project. Paris has many great restaurants at the Plaza, the Bristol, the Meurice, Palace, the Ritz but I know this new Guy Savoy restaurant will be a magnificent and beautiful addition.

Was there a special meal or taste which you had that made you want to cook when you were growing up?

My passion grew as I started to work and train in this profession. Initially my mother who ran a small establishment was responsible for creating the interest and teaching me how to transform seasonal bounty into beautiful food. My childhood memories are of simple dishes and all the tastes bring back find memories of those days. (His Vos Petits Plats Par Un Grand cookbook has recipes like Langues de Chat cookies that his mother made at home)

What makes chefs better over time? Is it experience, travel, experiencing other cuisines?

It is the training and the concentration and desire to learn and keep perfecting. The front of the house and kitchen have to work together to create a memorable experience for the diners. I have some guests who come to eat every single day at my restaurant in Paris and even in Las Vegas we have many returning guests and some come very frequently just like in Paris.

ImageHow do you explain the ‘magic’ in cuisine?

With your actions you transform a product and it’s concrete for example when you take a red mullet filet, a little salt, some pepper, put it in a pan, cook two or three seconds on each side, drizzle juice from the liver of the fish, a few drops of lemon juice. It’s transformed and it’s magic. In a few seconds you go from a simple piece of fish to something beautiful. Cuisine is very important in life, art you see, touch but cuisine you eat, you put in your body so it’s imp and the pleasure you get from it is magic as well. Then add good wine and good company and it’s magical.

Now you have one less outpost out of France since the closing of your Singapore restaurant. Do you look forward to being able to focus more on your kitchen in Paris?

My work is my life and I am happy as long as I can get to cook and guests can come in and enjoy what I create.  For me cuisine and food is magic. I get a chance to create this magic every day for guests and to see them enjoy themselves makes everything worthwhile.

Singapore was not the place for a high end fine dining restaurant and I did let Marina Bay Sands know but they really wanted me to come and so I did. In Las Vegas it is very different and my relationship with Caesars Palace is very strong and we work very well together. There is a huge clientele with the ability to afford dining at high end restaurants. There are not only visitors from within the US but also many international guests. We are open for dinner five nights a week and it’s working well for my team, for me and Caesars Palace.

You have used the same designer for all your restaurants. How involved are you in deciding the decor? What is the motif?

Jean-Michel Wilmotte has designed all my restaurants and he does such a beautiful job as you can see. We get along very well and I love his work. He has always brought my vision to life. My restaurants are meant to be elegant but comfortable for my guests to have the best experience possible.

The new restaurant will be very modern. It’s not only a nice building, but all the elements and the philosophy of the place is in harmony with my life and my style. It will be a great exposition for all the art. There are high ceilings, even the windows are very tall and   the atmosphere of the building and the locale is very artisanal. The building was built in 1775, so it’s very historic and located just by the Seine.

Who picks the art?

I love contemporary and modern art. I tend to pick the art myself. When I am walking in Paris and see a piece at a gallery and if I love it I have to find a place for it in my restaurants. See this piece with the bear. The moment I saw it I had to have it for my collection and to display it in my restaurant.

I am an artist at heart, so it’s on my plates, at my restaurants. I need to have art around me. My restaurant is my home and the pieces of art are here because this is the most important place for me. I have pieces from China like the red Buddha in my Paris restaurant, from Africa, and all over the world. I look to create a harmony in the space inside my restaurants

ImageYou keep a low profile compared to some of your peers. Is that a personal preference?

I have a passion for the cuisine, the people who supply my produce, my guests, my team and my family. I am very comfortable and content with that. I am much occupied with my work and like to give my time and complete attention to it. As long as I create food that brings people back again and again I am satisfied since it is the best compliment!

I have some guests in Paris who come daily for lunch and that is exceptional for Paris and for a fine dining restaurant. I refuse many TV shows and other such opportunities. My clientele is from all over the world and people know of me and my cuisine. (On any given day the dining room at Savoy can be occupied by the president, high ranking ministers, celebrities from Hollywood, or the fashion and art worlds)

Are your friends also from the same profession?

For the most part and some like Thomas Keller worked with me earlier and in fact we were all together this morning. Daniel Boulud, Pierre’s Gagnaire who is a great guy and a good friend. (The chefs were aboard a bus that carried the culinary royalty in town, having fun like schoolboys on the top deck of a red double decker bus with the Bon Appetit Vegas Uncork’d event signage, popping champagne, and showering each other going up and down the strip from the Venetian hotel to the MGM Grand, Chef Savoy deftly sabering the top off his bottle)

Do you still stay in touch with the Troisgros family since the time that you trained there at all of 23 years of age?

Of course, it was a great experience for me to work and learn at the Maison Troisgros with Pierre Troisgros. My connections with that family are very close. Now Michel Troisgros younger son Leo trains with me. During his last school break he spent four months with me in my kitchen and I feel so happy for that ability to pass on what I know to the next Troigros generation. It’s incredible!

How many days are you in the kitchen yourself?

I spend five days in my kitchen and then two days away to recharge. I have a small house in the mountains in Switzerland and I love this place and look forward to being there almost every week.

Do you still garden?

Yes I have a garden between Lyon and Grenoble and we grow many fruits vegetables and even have chickens but it’s for my own consumption and not my restaurants.

Do you still get anxious or excited since every service is like a theatre performance?

Of course since I want to make sure everything, the food, the service is perfect and the guests comfortable and having a good time. It is impossible to be completely relaxed we can only do that after the service or event. It’s very serious what we do , the team has to be in sync, every table is important because around every table we have guests, it’s not a table number, for example tonight we have sixty five guests and the Krug table in our kitchen. They are all coming to have a good time and we have to make sure we make it happen. It’s an important piece of their life.

ImageYour restaurant is high end and most people come for special occasions. Is Paris different from Las Vegas in terms of clientele?

Las Vegas is different from Paris but here also we have many return guests. For example last night we had many return guests and that is important for me since it is my dream to have guests everyday who when they leave tell me see you tomorrow. In Paris it is unusual for haute cuisine restaurants to have daily guests. It is very satisfying for a chef to see that. For me this affirmation is important and I need that to keep going. I stay of course in the kitchen but I come into the dining rooms well to greet my guests. It helps ensure that they are happy and I feel connected to them. It’s good for guests as well as they are re assured that we are doing our best to take care of them. If the dining room has 8-10 tables of returning guests the atmosphere in the room is exceptionally good.

This is my particular style to ensure that this happens in my restaurants. I prefer to know people well than to just know them and I would like to work a long long time in this manner.

Your son has followed you into the family business. Do you feel that you can pass on the mantle to your children?

For me it was not something I tried to guide them into. As for passing on the mantle, I want to work for another forty years! I am not ready to step away any time soon. I don’t think about the succession and I don’t look towards the end of life. I want to keep going for a long time.

Do you ever plan to slow down or even retire, or are there more restaurants planned?

Right now I am concentrating on moving my Guy Savoy restaurant into its new location. Construction has started and we plan to move by the end of the year. It’s going to be a grand room with similar elements to my present restaurants. My restaurant in Las Vegas is pretty close in decor to my Paris Restaurant and of course there will be spectacular art at the new Guy Savoy. It was a thrill to get the opportunity to move into this classic building. Many chefs were considered and to my amazement I got selected. It’s like a dream come true. As far as retiring I have never thought of doing that or slowing down. This is what I love to do and will continue to do so for as long as I am around. Now I am sixty and would like to do this as long as I live. I have worked for forty five years and do the work of two days in one day and so in reality I have done this work for ninety years. I am not complaining since this is what I love and this is my passion.

Today we forget what is what it is like to work over a long period of time not a short stint. My style is that of a marathon and not a sprint and it’s important to keep this in mind to develop as a chef and perfect your art.

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