A version of this conversation was recently published in The Daily Meal.
Guy Savoy: Magician of French Cuisine
by Geeta Bansal
Guy Savoy, the celebrated Parisian chef and restaurateur, believes that cuisine is magic. In any conversation with him it is impossible to be unaffected by his infectious enthusiasm for cuisine, France and especially the city of Paris. A red neon sign at his three Michelin-starred restaurant proclaims “Cooking is the art of instantly transforming historical products into pleasure.” For a French chef he is quite unconventional as evidenced by his modern art collection and minimalist yet elegant decor in his restaurants that juxtaposes with the classic techniques he favors to reimagine ingredients. The original “Guy Savoy” restaurant, opened in 1980 and then was relocated in 2015 to the grandiose Hotel de Monnaie (the former French mint), where its ten-foot tall windows look out over the Seine. A regal red-carpeted staircase leads guests into six sumptuous dining rooms with contemporary art on the walls and exquisitely laid tables. The affable chef is the consummate host, often dropping by to greet guests, regulars, and the who’s who of the town.
In new the light-filled kitchens in the heart of historical 18th century Paris, Savoy and his team attempt to make the ephemeral unforgettable for guests every day. Food lovers experience that special magic and finesse in the iconic truffle-laden iconic artichoke soup, the famous “Colors of Caviar”, the humble “Myriad of Peas” or other magical offerings.
The suave chef is intimately acquainted with the foodscape of his city since he owns multiple operations that range from his posh three Michelin-starred restaurant to less formal places to grab a bite without dropping a bundle of Euros. Savoy started the casual trend as early as 1988 with his bistro l’Etoile following more recently with an oyster bar, a boulangerie spinning out those delicious brioches served with his truffle/artichoke soup, a seafood restaurant (at the former location of his gastronomic restaurant), and a soon to open cafe at the Monnaie. Savoy’s other restaurants in Paris are Le Chiberta (one star), Les Bouquinistes, and l’Atelier Maitre Albert. The “Guy Savoy” restaurant at the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was recently recognized by Restaurant Magazine as one of the top ten restaurants in the U.S.
It has been 49 years since the Burgundy native began his career in the city of Paris. While he himself interned in the famous Troisgros kitchens in Roanne, 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. Guy Savoy was recently chosen as an ambassador of gastronomy by the French government to attract the international business community for events and meetings to the country. An avid art collector, his collections adorn his various restaurants and he is known to frequent art galleries in search of singular pieces to add to his well-curated collection.
It was love at first sight on my first visit in November 2009… and love ever again when we opened in May 2015. We’re now situated at the heart of historical Paris, by the Seine.
What has been the most unexpected and pleasant surprise during this year for you?
I knew that most of our clients would follow us, but the unexpected surprise was to see that, even the neighbors who are working at the old address (18, rue Troyon 75017 Paris) come to La Monnaie de Paris regularly.
Have you acquired any new pieces of art specifically for the new restaurant?
Yes. We are now exhibiting works from the Pinault Collection, as well as a new work by Fabrice Hyber, titled “Effervescence”
La Liste listed your Paris “Guy Savoy” as the 4th best restaurant in the world and now the World’s 50 Best has mentioned your Las Vegas restaurant as one of the ten best restaurants in the United States. Do these recognitions affect the flow of business and diners to your restaurants?
It is not evident on the flow of business in my restaurants, but it is such a good thing for the spirit of my teams.
You have rapidly opened a lot of new ventures and were they being planned over a long period of time?
They had been planned a long time ago, but with the delay at La Monnaie, everything seemed to arrive at the same time. The restaurant at la Monnaie should have opened long ago (three years and a half).
Over the past three decades how has your clientele changed?
No, I would say everybody has followed. It keeps renewing, but some of our guests have been with us since 1977 when we first opened.
Has the kitchen concept changed in any way at the new location?
No. It will keep evolving as it always did.
What do you enjoy most about cooking in the new kitchen?
The light and space, with the magnificent view over 18th-century Paris.
What are your latest creations on your summer menu at the restaurant? Is there a new contender for your soupe d’artichaut à la truffe noire et brioche feuilletée aux champignons et truffes or huîtres en nage glacée or your unforgettable pea soup?
There are many like the “Tomatoes in two services”, “Red mullet ‘swimming in the sea'”, “Surf spray and turf saddle and rack of lamb”.
Well-known chefs like yourself are opening casual eateries like your oyster bar or your latest brioche boutique. Is casual dining taking over the fine dining market?
No. I started this in 1988, with ‘Les bistrots de l’Etoile’. As for the brioche shop, it is just an answer to our guests who keep asking to buy our brioches.
Ours is the land of diversity. I have not gone through all the possibilities and riches of France, by far.
Are there dishes or ingredients on your menu that you would have not considered ten years ago?
There are a few products like seaweeds, shellfish (a few years ago I thought that oysters were the only high-quality shellfish), now I use clams, goose barnacle, etc. I also use parts of the beef like beef chuck that I wouldn’t have done earlier.
Do the tastes of chefs and diners change with changes in society? How has this changed your own food?
This is an eternal question: Is it the cook that changes the mind of the guests, or the opposite? It is like “the chicken or the egg” I think we are unconsciously inspired by the society and the time we are living in.
Are chefs more adventurous about introducing unexpected flavors, combinations, textures, and ingredients these days?
I don’t think so. We (the chefs) are lucky to work in a time where we can find so many different products. Chefs dare to express their sensibility on a technical basis. There are so many different styles on Earth.
You now have multiple operations in Paris. Have the recent tragic events affected your business?
Of course it has affected my business. Fortunately our Parisian guests (who are numerous in our restaurants) are still there but there is a decrease of tourists. I have to say that if the Parisians have such a choice of restaurants it is thanks to the tourists that enable the restaurants to work.
What would you say to tourists, especially gastrotourists, about continuing to come to your beautiful city?
I tell them that it is also risky to drive your own car in your own country. Life goes on.
Is the French government or tourism board providing sufficient support to promote French gastronomy?
It’s getting better. The power of gastronomy is now a real topic for our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius. And let’s not forget that we export over 11 billion € in wines and spirits.
Do you like guests constantly taking pictures in the dining room before savoring your exquisite cuisine? Is it proper etiquette, and when is a line crossed?
I don’t mind guests taking pictures in my restaurant. I just hope that the best memory they keep of their experience stays on their palate (all that a picture can’t do).
What’s the most pleasant change in French gastronomy in recent years? Do you like the toned-down dining rooms of today?
The change is not only in France but all over the world. There is a diversity that grows in regards of the plates, the decorations, the ambiance, the service (which is more friendly).
Was there any unusual request when President Obama dined at your restaurant? Any special incident or memory from that event?
The people who organized the dinner composed the menus a few days before. Because of a time issue, they decided to skip the cheese course . President Obama asked for cheese during his meal and said “We are in France so I would like to eat cheese” and he did. The First Lady was not there, but when Mr. Obama was about to leave the restaurant he told me that he would come back with her the next time they visit Paris.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception regarding French cuisine?
(Smiling) I never pay attention to misconceptions.
Would you share some of your favorite places in the city of Paris with us?
Some of my favorite restaurants, bars, and other haunts in Paris are:
109 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris, France
53 Quai des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris, France
I like to shop for groceries at Papa Sapiens
7 Rue Bayen, 75017 Paris, France
The bar of the Hôtel Raphaël. So British! I can contemplate a beautiful Turner before coming in.
17 Avenue Kléber, 75116 Paris, France
And L’Aventure. So Parisian!
4 Avenue Victor Hugo, 75016 Paris, France
Other haunts in the city:
The beautiful Jardin des Plantes, the centuries old main botanical garden of France.
57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France
Quartier Latin – 5e Arrondissement
Rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire – 75005 Paris
The place Igor Stravinsky with the Stravinsky fountain created by Jean Tinguely et Niki de Saint Phalle.
Rue Brisemiche, 75004 Paris, France
I love visiting all the museums and art galleries and I enjoy theatre, but unfortunately my job does not allow me time however one of my regular guests for 30 years goes to the theatre 250 days a year. That goes to show the cultural richness of Paris.