Each era presents a different set of challenges for Paris’ top chefs. When The Louvre was still a palace, the prevailing taste would seem to have been for unusual or exotic products prepared in the most elaborate fashion. If the monarchs or aristocracy were craving fish or mollusks from the sea, the constraints of the time involved a protracted conveyance of the raw ingredients from the source to the kitchen. Rumor has it that the inspiration for many of the heavy sauces created at the time was the need to disguise the fact that, lacking refrigeration, many foods were at some point of putrefaction before the chef ever got his hands on them.
At one of Paris’newest restaurants,“Terroir Parisien”, the chefs have imposed their own challenge of creating a menu using only ingredients grown within a virtual stone’s throw of the kitchen. Executive chef Yannick Alléno earned Michelin stars while presiding over the kitchens at the grand hotel Le Meurice, across from the Louvre. His new concept restaurant mines the veins of the Slow Food Movement and the Locavore trend. It is located on the ground floor of the Maison de la Mutualité, updated with respect and restraint by the noted architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte in a two-year renovation. This building has been best known as a meeting place for “The Left”. Originally designed in the 1930’s it is appealing in its elegant, spare French version of the Art Deco style. The new restaurant is modern with a large bar prominently situated in the center and a lively open kitchen in the rear of the space. Understated with an unpretentious feeling- definitely more “Mutualité” than Meurice
Lunching there a few days after it had opened, my first bite of Montfermeil spinach transported me back in time to my grandmother’s table. She would pick fresh greens from her garden and cook and serve them within a matter of minutes. The ingredients tasted of her own terroir (Sedona, Arizona, rather than Ile de France). Another seductive dish by name, “eggs in frou frou”, was definitely NOT something my grandmother would’ve produced. Far too elaborate, it was pure “Molecular Gastronomy”. Our waitress had neglected to tell us about the daily special of roasted chicken with garlic potatoes. Luckily the charming front of the house, Jamie Cameron, stopped by and mentioned it as we were placing our order. My friend, Jose, opted for the special, and it was as good as it gets. Our neighbors were two local women of a certain age. They were clucking over their entrees: an old-fashioned dish not seen on many menus these days called “Matelote”, a fish stew cooked in a red wine sauce. Watching plates go by I couldn’t help but admire a local river fish, fried into a pose and placed on the plate in such a way that it appeared to be leaping out of the water One of the implied tenets of this spot is making top-quality local food available to a wider public at reasonable prices. Here the chefs definitely succeed and still dazzle the troops.