Guy Savoy is a lucky type of legend. A chef’s work can only be judged moments after he creates it, which is why, unlike Keats, Vermeer, or Bach, he and his fans didn’t have to wait decades to become acquainted. The dishes would have been cold then anyway.
But maybe none of that matters, because Savoy refuses the title of artist. His is the “work of a craftsman,” he says. If that sounds like a humblebrag, forgive him. His beginnings are rather humble — his father was a gardener and his mother owned a tap room in Bourgoin-Jallieu, France. He has also won the right to brag. His Restaurant Guy Savoy was awarded its third Michelin star in 2002 and kept it since; Savoy stood on the committee in support of the inclusion of the “French gourmet meal” on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, (in 2010 UNESCO ruled in favour of the proposal); to date, he has published 10 books and produced a film, A Four Season Feast, to introduce France’s culinary regions and intrepid food suppliers to a wider audience.
One of Savoy’s signature dishes, “artichoke soup with black truffle; layered truffled mushroom brioche,” is an experience that stays with you. Inspired by the memory of fruit brioche that has stuck with him since childhood, this unassuming-looking soup is full of earthy, mouth-watering flavours: the brioche is meant to be dipped to soak up the artichoke cooked in truffle jus. A guest once likened this dish’s ingredients to three aspects of Savoy himself: “This dish… the artichoke is your modest origins, the truffle is your quest for excellence, and the brioche is your childlike soul.” Savoy thinks the definition fits him perfectly.
Iced poached oysters are another innovation unique to Restaurant Guy Savoy. The shell is lined with a lightly creamed purée of oyster; a raw oyster is laid upon it and covered with a jelly of oyster jus. A strip of sorrel, a touch of pepper and a brunoise of lemon finish the dish.
Rhubarb isn’t an ingredient often seen outside of country roadhouses, and hardly ever in Parisian dining rooms. But Savoy does not treat inexpensive ingredients differently than expensive ones, he says. All ingredients deserve to be treated and cooked with care. Whether carrot, lobster, or foie gras, they are produced through the harvester’s hard labour. As long as the cook is willing to take as much effort as the farmers do, even simple ingredients can have unlimited possibilities, he believes.
That’s what makes his rhubarb dessert so popular. Crisp strips of rhubarb are accentuated with a bonbon of rhubarb and vanilla sorbet. Rhubarb compote, honey and a vanilla jelly rest on a bed of meringue. Rhubarb has moved uptown.
Savoy’s career path was inspired by his mother. One day, when he was young, he watched his mother bake langue de chat cookies. Common ingredients, flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, suddenly transformed into crisp, delicious dessert. He still remembers his surprise. That’s the moment he decided to become a chef.
“I think cooking is something wonderful. It can make ingredients bring joy to people rather than just be edible. Those ingredients have gone through hundreds of years of fostering. People have worked hard to pay close attention to them and labor over them. Every day when I see oysters, salmon and shellfish and other fresh ingredients, I am carried away by them and feel full of joy because at lunch and dinner time, they will become delicacies.”
When his carefully crafted presentations are served, what kind of feedback does Savoy want most?
“I don’t need to hear praise; a smile is plenty. If I’m healthy enough, my dream is to always be a chef and do well at what I do now even when I’m 100 years old. The wish is my motivation: turning ingredients into delicacies and making my guests happy.”
Chinese Text by Hanna Wang Edited by Zhao Wen English Text by Brett Price Photography by Laurence MOUTON © Restaurant Guy Savoy Monnaie de Paris