The Epicurean's Atlas: Alléno Paris
ADDRESS Carré des Champs-Élysées, 8, avenue Dutuit, 75008 Paris, France
I f, as Yannick Alléno likes to say, the sauce is the “verb of French cuisine”, this multi-Michelin-starred chef may well be the noun. Born in Puteaux, just outside of Paris, and apprenticing in some of the city’s finest kitchens – Le Royal Monceau under Gabriel Biscay, then Roland Durand at Sofitel Porte de Sèvres, followed by Louis Grondard’s Drouant – he has been accruing stars since 1999 and was awarded the equivalent five toques, or chef’s hats, by prestigious French guide Gault & Millau in 2010. It may have seemed, by 2017, that there were no culinary achievements left for Alléno: he had the Michelin stars, the international fame and the admiration of his peers (“The very epitome of the great French restaurant,” gushes the Michelin Guide). But then, in short order, he received three stars for his Courchevel restaurant Le 1947 à Cheval Blanc, while Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen not only retained the three stars it had received in 2015, seven months after Alléno took over the kitchen, but entered The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at number 31, the highest new entry of 2017.
Alléno was thrilled: here was validation of his attempts to rethink and revitalise the traditional grande cuisine of Auguste Escoffier – and in one of France’s most historic restaurants, which, in a happy coincidence, turned 225 that very year. The magnificent Pavillon Ledoyen, with its heritage-listed frescoes from the 1900s, its graceful pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the gardens of the Champs-Élysées, has been feeding Paris’ fine-diners since the 1790s; before that it was a private mansion where, legend has it, Napoleon Bonaparte first met his Joséphine.
“Everything is a sauce – creme patissiere, ganache, ice-cream. The sauce makes the connection”
Here, Alléno has the ideal platform for his accomplished, highly technical dishes, with their emphasis on sauces and jus. “I believe that 80% of what is interesting about a dish can be found in the sauce,” he has said. “If you don’t know sauces, you don’t have the key. Everything is a sauce – creme patissiere, ganache, ice-cream. The sauce makes the connection.” This, he feels, is what makes it possible for him to use the freshest and simplest ingredients: the richness and complexity is elsewhere. His are not, however, standard sauces.
Every ingredient is treated with almost fanatical care. Alléno uses dehydration, cryo-concentration, extraction; he ferments elderflower, steams morels and uses the sous-vide process to transform the teaspoon of liquid in a terrine into a rich and unctuous gravy. Experimentation is allied to inspiration to create new and unexpected flavour combinations, such as his bacon omelette with black truffle, which features an extraction of tomme, the Savoy mountain cheese. “You can give someone tools, but they have to know what to do with them,” Alléno has said. “There are different colours of pencils, but how you choose the colours and put them together makes them art.”
He may cook in a restaurant founded at the time of the French Revolution, but Alléno is no revolutionary. “I want to enrich the past, not make it over,” he maintains. Sauces must evolve as society has done. Alléno is a great believer in terroir: the same vegetable from different places will not, after all, produce the same flavour. This is an attitude that has held true in wine for centuries. He also tries to spread his gospel of sauces by giving guests the opportunity to try them, separate from the dish they accompany… in a wine glass. This is not as outrageous as it might sound; after all, there are often wines or spirits in those sauces: a jelly made from vin jaune, the savoury oxidised white of Jura in eastern France; a slug of Cognac or a dash of whisky. Wine is also, of course, an ingredient of traditional French cuisine.
Head Sommelier Vincent Javaux treats these encroachments into his territory as a challenge, in the best sense. The wine list is 90% French, hardly a surprise for a restaurant reinventing la grande cuisine. But the list, like the food, finds an equilibrium between the classic and the innovative. As well as the vintage Champagnes and the First Growth Bordeaux, more recent stars feature, such as Frédéric Mugnier at Jacques Frédéric Mugnier in Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits or Vincent Dauvissat in Chablis. Javaux and his team are not averse to looking beyond L’Hexagone’s borders: he also oversees the list at L’Abysse, Alléno’s two Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant on the same premises, which naturally has an impressive range of sake. Last year, Manu Rosier joined the team as Assistant Head Sommelier, with the brief to internationalise the list further (he has since moved again, to Drouant). At the peak of international gastronomy, there is no place for complacency. Javaux is in full agreement with Alléno’s assertion that “there is always more and we can always do better.”
Photos courtesy of Alléno Paris, Simon Detraz, Sebastian Mittermeier