Michel Guérard

April 1993

Food Arts presents the April 1993 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Michel Guérard, pioneering chef od reduced-calorie cuisine.

His restorative restaurant/hotel, Les Prés d'Eugénie and Les Sources d'Eugénie in the bucolic village of Eugénie-les-Bains in southwest France, is the archetypal example of what the Guide Michelin three-star rating means: "Worth the journey."

Guérard, who turned 60 in March, is a true product of his environment. His father was a butcher: Slaughtering was done on the premises at night, and washing the tripe in the local river is among the chef's first food memories. His grandmother was a self-taught cuisinière whose home-simmered dishes left an indelible impression on the boy. Obliged to leave school to learn a trade, Guérard became a pastry apprentice and discovered he had remarkable talent.

The chef's progress from apprentice status to owner of Les Prés d'Eugénie included military service cooking for the naval officer's club and jobs at the Crillon hotel, Lucas-Carton and Maxim's in Paris, where he acquired a knowledge of the great classic dishes. Work at the Lido in Paris and later with Régine, the Paris disco queen, gave him yet another outlook. Along the way he became a Meilleur Ouvrier de France—perhaps the most prestigious award any cook or other manual worker can earn in France. In 1965 he was able to buy, thanks to the generosity of a friend, an ignoble cafe run by North Africans in the dreary industrial suburb of Asnières. To survive, Guérard prepared the simplest food—even sandwiches. Flowers to decorate the 300-seat restaurant were collected wild from vacant lots. But a growing circle of admirers, including Paul Bocuse, Jean Delaveyne and the famile Troisgros, soon put Le Pot au Feu—the deceptively low-key name of the restaurant—on the list of every gastronome in the capital. A first Michelin star was awarded in 1967 and a second in 1970.

In 1972, he met Christine Bartélemy, the daughter of the owner of a chain of spas. Romance encouraged Guérard to go farther with his nascent slimming cuisine. In fact, the newly married couple went all the way down to Eugénie, where father-in-law Barthélemy had a spa. Together they developed the first 'village minceur' (minceur means thinning) in France. Today the Eugénie complex numbers three hotels to accommodate gastronomes and curistes who stay an average of a week; their three-star restaurant (Guérard won his third star in 1975); and La Ferme aux Grives, a country-style restaurant, due to open sometime this year: La Ferme, located in the village's oldest pension de famille, will allow Guérard to indulge in the reassuring, family-style cuisine that nourished him as a boy. The spa will be improved and a beauty center added. This mini empire employs over 140 people, including a very youthful kitchen brigade under alter ego Gary Duhr.

Working with Nestlé, Guérard has proven that mass-produced frozen foods of a quality much higher than that of most home cooks is possible. And like a growing number of other starred French chefs, such as Georges Blan and Marc Meneau, Guérard is now a vigneron. He has produced five vintages on his Château de Bachen property near Eugénie since its purchase in 1983: his Baron de Bachen should be available in the U.S. this year.

Guérard's 1976 La Grand Cuisine Minceur, published in English by William Morrow as Michel Guérard's Cuisine Minceur was a best seller.

Guérard's cuisine minceur, which inspired a revolution in the world of health-conscious cooking, is only one aspect of his influence. His passion for freshness and the true taste of things foreshadowed today's hyped preoccupation with the same things. Fans in America hope that his latest book, Minceur Exquise, which is currently available in English only in Britain, will soon cross the Atlantic.