Weight Loss, French-Style
Stephanie Curtis / October 2012
Eugénie-les-Bains, France—Michel Guérard, the most discreet of France’s great old-guard chefs, launched his revolutionary approach to French cuisine, La Grande Cuisine Minceur (Great Slimming Cuisine), over 30 years ago. Today, at 79 years old, the master of guilt-free gastronomy is taking his revolution two steps further, with the creation of his École de Cuisine de Santé (School of Healthy Cooking), scheduled to open early next year, and with the publication of a new book, Minceur Essentielle, the result of 40 years of research and culinary experimentation.
“It seems to me indispensable and even urgent to create this school—the world’s first of its kind—to encourage new reflexes in cooking,” explained Guérard from the kitchen of his Michelin three-star restaurant, Les Prés d’Eugénie, the heart of an oasis of elegance and refinement that includes a luxury hotel, three restaurants (one gastronomic, one minceur, and one country-style), a chic beauty spa, and a traditional French thermal bath establishment whose spring waters are reputed for removing impurities in the skin and treating diseases, including obesity.
The École de Cuisine de Santé of the Institut Michel Guérard, will be housed in what was formerly a bistro on the main street of the village of Eugénie, enlarged by a greenhouse. It will welcome a maximum of 10 culinary professionals for weeklong courses divided between practical hands-on cooking and theoretical instruction in dietetics and medicine, including introduction to diet-related pathologies. “The final goal,” says Guérard, “is to participate in the daily prevention of chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases and to accompany their treatment…while maintaining, of course, the notion of pleasure.”
The idea had been simmering in the chef’s mind for some time, after decades of observing the negative effects of a daily diet too rich in fats and sugars in the patients who come to Eugénie’s baths to lose weight. “What we thought to be a French exception is false. Obesity is a real problem in France today,” says Guérard. And the disheartenment of dieters seated sadly in front of large plates of sparsely seasoned grated carrots, deprived of the pleasures of the palate, was a real catalyst for him.
The chef’s classic training and uncommon talent won him the privileged Meilleur Ouvrier de France title in 1958, and then two Michelin stars for his bistro in a Paris suburb before he met and married Christine Barthélémy, heir to a chain of thermal baths, including Eugénie-les-Bains, located in SouthWest France, the heart of foie gras, duck confit, and duck fat–fried potatoes. The couple quickly made the address a destination for gourmets and gourmands, winning three Michelin stars in 1977. Simultaneously, Guérard began developing his minceur gastronomy—questioning certain precepts of classic cuisine. “Why must a vinaigrette be imperatively composed of one tablespoon of vinegar for three to four tablespoons of oil?” asks Guérard. “I eliminate part of the oil, replacing it with a flavored bouillon and a pinch of starch.” And why can’t the opulent Paris-Brest be dietetic? His version of this classic dessert replaces the rich praline buttercream with a cloud light mix of beaten egg whites and whipped cream.