The Gratifying Gourmets
The Gratifying Gourmets
Chefs Guy Savoy, Gilles Epie and Jean-George Vongerichten On The Evolution of Their Cuisine
When it comes to the mountain chefs must climb to reach the heights of brilliant cuisine, it is dizzying – and there are few at the pinnacle. This vantage point is occupied by masters and legends who cultivate and court perpetual satisfaction, thereby ensuring their place of honor. Certainly, the French have earned the title of Gratifying Gourmets, as their recipes have influenced culinary art far beyond its borders. Through my recent encounter with three award-winning French chefs: Guy Savoy, Gilles Epie, and Jean-George Vongerichten, I savored brilliance through the convergence and harmony of worldly influences the three have infused in their own gourmet techniques. These three chefs allowed me to peek from their vantage point of excellence: The view was magnificent.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find the three Frenchmen, each adorned with Michelin Stars, are not at all egotistical about their abilities to create fine French cuisine. Instead, the three have gathered the best of what they’ve learned from kitchens around the world and, in a sort of boomerang harvest, brought excellence back to France. They, in turn, spread this brilliance again, through exclusive restaurants in Europe, Asia and America. First stop in a journey of dining gratification is Paris, where I met with Chef Guy Savoy at his eponymous restaurant to experience his interpretation of nouvelle cuisine.
“For me, it’s a marvelous fairy tale,” explains Savoy when asked about his passion for this profession. “Cooking is the art of lifting food from the merely edible to the realm of pleasure.” He described his relationship to the culinary arts as an ode to a moment of bliss. “Cooking is about transforming matter into joy. Products are made in a limited time, consumed within an equally limited time, and provide pleasure very rapidly.”
As if on cue, clear iced-poached oysters and chilled wine appeared at the table set for the two of us. We were then treated to pleasure of “blue lobster raw-cooked in cold steam,” and then a moment of “caviar and potato pebbles.” And, in true fairy tale fashion, Chef Savoy created a dining moment that was both transitory and forever with me.
After the experience, I wandered out of Chef Savoy’s kingdom and the corresponding romantic meal onto the streets of Paris, blinking and grinning as if I had dined on the spirit of happiness. Such was dinner with the first genius.
A few days later into my excursion through Paris, I met the second of my geniuses: I dined at Citrus Etoile, where Chef Gilles Epie delighted me with a mouth-watering beef dish and truffle mashed potatoes. There, magic emerges from simplicity. “I don’t use butter, except for in the mashed potatoes,” Epie reveals of his re-inventive cuisine style. While some chefs cook a lifetime and never receive an honor, Epie still holds the title of the youngest chef ever to be awarded a Michelin Star – at the ripe old age of 22. Shortly after this, he moved to the United States and, without knowing a word of English, was awarded Best New Chef in America in 1996 by Food & Wine magazine. He did so after one year at the once-famous L’Orangerie in Los Angeles.
While Epie became a celebrity chef to the stars of Hollywood, he longed for Paris and returned to begin his plat de résistance, the Citrus Etoile. There, for the last seven years, he has treated Hollywood stars and international political dignitaries to his interpretation of heaven. He describes his dishes as “California cuisine,” as it is fresh and light, with no heavy sauces. Epie explained that he had to evolve for his California clientele at L’Orangerie who were often concerned that rich French dishes were too caloric. “Cuisine Epie style” seemingly uncomplicated meals are created to “bring out the most simple and delightful taste that it was meant to have.” Chef Epie welcomed me to the ranks of his faithful admirers, from the first bite of paradise to the last, that of his award winning Chocolate Soufflé. C’est magnific!
My visit to the third of the three geniuses took me to the other side of the globe, where I met Chef Jean-George Vongerichten at his J & G Steakhouse in Scottsdale, AZ.
One of many notable achievements for Chef Vongerichten are the triple-crowned James Beard awards received all in just one year, a first for the Foundation. In the beginning of his career it was working with the top chef’s in France that taught him how to master his own signature dishes as much as it was his experiences in Asia. Vongerichten’s empire of establishments has advanced across the globe and managed by his Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group (CCHG). I would describe him as a genie who has collected all the edible riches of the world offered up in his restaurants. As your wish is his command is the menu created at J&G for an “individually designed, customizable menu” of the finest and freshest “globally selected” meats and seafood.
I was delighted with Chef Vongerichten’s triumph of Chilean Sea Bass in a Miso Yuzu Broth, which was embraced warmly by the house wine. I enthusiastically recommend the experience of J & G Steakhouse and the corresponding brilliance of its master-chef if one has the pleasure of visiting Scottsdale.
Three geniuses, three interpretations of culinary bliss; each fully satisfying and memorable, each giving me a view from the pinnacle of perfection!
“Gastronomy has no passport.”- Chef Guy Savoy