To celebrate Guy Martin's Legion d'Honneur I decide to lunch at his Grand Véfour restaurant located in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. If the walls, standing since 1784, could talk they'd tell of visits to the original Café de Chartres where Barras eats with Montansier, Napoleon with Josephine. Later on, with the arrival of Jean Véfour, the café becomes a superb restaurant where Brillat Savarin keeps his napkin rolled in his own silver ring. Coco Chanel ate here, and obviously never had to worry what she was going to wear. To-day it's Guy Martin's “house”, and I sit at Victor Hugo's table.
“I need to travel to broaden my perspective in the kitchen, glean new ideas”, says Martin. And Japan has always fascinated him, so when Air France wanted to create a special meal to celebrate the anniversary of their immaculate Paris-Tokyo first class service, who better than Martin to rustle up a few 3-star plats for the savvy travellers.
Talk to Martin about his native Savoy region and a faraway look comes into his eyes. You can see him thinking about his mum and her viandes mijotées, her way with vegetables, her patisserie, chou pastry and clouds of chantilly. But what's this got to do with Air France? OK. So, Martin produces sushi de beaufort(his local cheese) au sesame grille. White radish (grown in his garden) with crevette au wasabi. There is a thick tranche of marinated tuna with legumes etc. If you rush you can taste all this and more until February 1st – and you might get to travel with Martin; that would put anybody on Cloud 9. And when Martin gets to Japan where does he eat? “Le Pont du Ciel”, where his friend Pierre Gay cooks French food from the posh penthouse of the Obayashi building.
Meanwhile back at Victor Hugo's table, everything is as the old scribbler would have required. Part the little muslin curtain and admire the gardens, which always look much better when you don't have to dig them, and with a glass of Taittenger ‘s finest pink champagne to sip. The crowd's chic, I listen hard to what they're discussing. “New Zealand next New Year's eve, they say it's fabulous”, agree three immaculate yuppies at the next table. A lone diner reads Le Monde, which he places aside when his dishes arrive. Is he from a food guide, or did his date stand him up? Are they lovers at Colette's table? They seem to getting off on each other and the food.
Ah the food, well, the critics have heaped awards on Martin, since they spotted his talent at Chateau de Divonne and a star (then 2) was born. The third came in 2000, and gives him, “a wonderful feeling of serenity”, confirmation that he's on the right track. Martin says it's important to follow and create trends; culinary history fascinates him. When he's finished at lunchtime he often pops into the Louvre where he finds inspiration (read his handsome tome: Un Artist au Grand Véfour, Editions de Seuil). Martin's À La Carte Grand Véfour menu changes with the seasons. Lunch will set you back 72€ and the classic Ravioli of Foie Gras with truffles, Cod with Garam Massala coconut sauce, Truffled Oxtail Shepherd's Pie and the orgasmic Artichoke Tart with Vegetable Confit and Bitter Almond Sorbet always feature, to keep the regulars happy.
Martin's cooking is young and lively, always a nod and a wink to the Savoie. Look at the cheeses, some from his friend, fromager affineur, Monsieur Boujon, in Thonon. And save room for the Gateau de Savoie, a recipe by Grandma Martin. Go, with great expectations, you will not be disappointed.
Le Grand Véfour
17 rue du Beaujolais, 1st.
Métro: Palais Royal
T: 01 42 96 56 27
7 rue Saint-Sebastian.
T: 04 50 71 07 68
Le Pont du Ciel
Obayashi Building 30F
T: 00 81 6 947 0888
According to Madame Figaro, Guy Martin can wear his Legion d'Honneur with his smoking jacket. This was a matter of serious debate, and even the ex-mayor of Versailles, Andre Damien, is doubtful if you read his book, Les Ordres de Chevalerie et les Decorations(Editions Memoires). “Decorations should not usually be worn with the smoking (dinner jacket). It was originally a garment worn at home by the English, slipped on before the gentry went into their fumoir to light up their after dinner cigars”, writes Monsieur Damien. He concludes that, as it is now worn to formal occasions other than “private smokes”, it is tout à fait correct and, decorations can be worn. Last week President Chirac was photographed wearing his, le ruban rouge avec une cravate noir has the green light, wrote Fabienne Haberther. Quite!
In collaboration with the Chambre Syndicale, during this weeks' Paris Haute Couture Collection, Jean Paul Gaultier and Ines de la Fressange host a dinner at Pré-Catalan. Frederic Anton is the two-star chef at this magnificent pavilion in the Bois de Boulogne. Tables are sponsored by the likes of Dior, Lanvin, Rykiel, Yohji Yamamoto and Chanel. Of course there's a raffle, one of the prizes is a Renault Megane, others outfits from Hermes, Dior and the proceeds will go to AIDS charities.
Bois de Boulogne,route de Suresnes.
(miles from the métro – get a taxi!)
T: 01 44 14 41 14.
If you're in Lyon check out the Bocuse d'Or – it's the Miss World of Haute Cuisine, the Tour de France of technique, a giant food-fest with all the tears and tantrums you'd expect when you get 24 candidates, from all over the world, cooking up a storm in 12 custom built kitchens, competing to win the coveted trophy and a cheque for 20,000€ (last year it was Francois Adamski from Prunier, Paris).
This year the trophy is an effigy of Bocuse, designed by Christine Delessert, and there are three categories, gold, silver, bronze. The 24 candidates were selected during cook-offs in their own countries, and each of the 24 will be required to create a dish around two pre-ordained products. They will all tackle — in their façon — Norweigan trout (big buggers weighing 2.5 kilos) and for the main, 3.5 kilo filets of beef; they MUST use the tails! Hmmmm.
Pudds are another category, La Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie, held at the same time! (USA won last year) “It's the most important culinary competition in the world”, says Franck Putelat, this years' French Candidate (restaurant La Barbacane, Carcassone). “I've been training as hard as the world cup footballers”, he says. 300 supporters are coming from Carcassone to support their boy. ”We've got T-shirts, chefs hats in bleu-blanc-rouge”, promises Franck who has the right to one commis to help him. Good Luck Franck – bon chance Ugo (the commis). “Each candidate is so proud to represent his country”, says Guy Savoy, President of the Jury.
Or, if you're in the South don't miss the Fete de la Truffe et du Vin, Carpentras, presided over by Bernard Loiseau and with a delicious accent on truffles from Mont Ventoux. 26th January.
Michelin Red Guide 2003 Great Britain and Ireland is published this week. Two or three line remarks about each establishment are now used, as in France. There's also a new “wine glass” symbol, indicating restaurants which offer a “good selection of quality wines available by the glass”. No fireworks or suicides necessary, the only London restaurants to lose their stars are those that have closed over the past year, such as Chez Nico and the Oak Room, Marco Pierre White. Gordon Ramsay and The Waterside Inn (Roux Brothers), Bray, Berkshire, are the only restaurants to keep 3***.
Copyright © Margaret Kemp