Three-star Michelin chef Yannick Alléno has started his own French cooking revolution. After nearly thirty years in the kitchen, the 44-year-old Paris native has decided to get back to basics as a way to push gastronomy forward. “If you consider the DNA of French food, it is around sauces and jus and stocks,” he tells us over dinner at The White, the bistro at exclusive ski-in ski-out Maison, Le Cheval Blanc, in Courchevel, France. This is where his restaurant, Le 1947, is located, and where he has travelled from his celebrated Parisian restaurant at Le Meurice Hotel, in order to prepare for the 2012 – 2013 season, which runs from December to April. “History shows us that evolution comes from the core, which is why I have started working with extractions.”
Drawing inspiration from the wine and champagne producers he has collaborated with over the past year, Alléno is using the essence of his ingredients in a whole new way. “If you follow the method of wine makers, you bring together the different flavours after preparation, and not at the beginning. In the past I would make stocks by combining all the ingredients – veal, roast carrots etc – and cook them together to create the base. Now, we are cooking things separately, mushrooms, flowers, vegetables, and combining them afterwards.” He calls this approach Cuisine Moderne, and describes it as an evolution of Nouvelle Cuisine. An example is the first course on Le 1947’s new menu: an extraction of canard au vin, to which essence of celeriac is added when served. This approach brings a stronger, more intense flavour to each dish, and allows Alléno to build a menu based around a considered progression of courses: what you order as your main dictates all your other courses, building a personalised dining experience for each guest.
Rather than simply pairing food with wine, Alléno has integrated vintages directly into his cooking. In Le 1947’s kitchen the day before opening night, we see him pry open a large wooden box that contains chalk from the Ruinart champagne quarries. This will be used to cook a loin of veal that has been marinated in barrels from Château Yquem, accompanied by vegetables fermented in vine leaves from Krug’s Clos du Mesnil. Unforgettably, he also tells us about a dish of ‘drunk’ shrimp, which are cooked while still alive in Hennessy cognac Paradis, and thus die in paradise.
"Unforgettably, he tells us about a dish of ‘drunk’ shrimp, which are cooked while still alive in Hennessy cognac Paradis, and thus die in paradise."
Le Cheval Blanc, owned by LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, is the ideal setting for Alleno’s fertile imagination and unparalleled expertise. Situated high in the French Alps in the prestigious Trois Vallées ski region, the Maison has 36 rooms and suites, each with a unique interior designed by Sybille de Margerie. Attention to luxurious detail follows from the moment we pass the Dior Christmas tree in the front lobby, through to the Guerlain spa and skis by Lacroix, to the chromotherapy hammam shower in each large en-suite, and the Berluti shoe cleaning service. Original art is present throughout the Maison, including the gold “Kanye Bear” by Takashi Murakami, and photographs commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld. Similarly splendid care has been taken with the dining room at Le 1947, which seats only 25, and is both elegantly sparse and full of warming touches, including porcelain dinnerware designed by Sylvie Coquet.
Throughout our visit Alléno is busy with his small but dedicated team, and with nearly everything in place for the opening, he is looking forward to unveiling his new approach to an established tradition, while the gastronomic world will no doubt be watching on.
Before visiting Le Cheval Blanc, we first landed in Geneva, and stayed at the 5 star Hotel D’Angleterre, situated on Lake Geneva with a perfect view of the city’s famous water feature, the jet d’eau. Full of old world charm and British punctuations – we loved the Penhaligon’s bath products – the hotel’s plush Leopard Room Bar is also a lively venue, bringing in both guests and locals for cocktails and live music. The restaurant, Windows, offers a gastronomic menu during the week, and bistro fare on Sundays, with a selection of good Swiss wines (of which there is a surprisingly large amount), including a smooth and chocolaty 2010 Gamaret from producer Jean-Pierre Pellegrin.
Ananda and Neil stayed at Hotel D’Angleterre on Sunday 9 December, and at Le Cheval Blanc on Monday 10 December, 2012.
Text by Ananda Pellerin