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A childhood spent between Parisian bistros and his grandma's country home taught Yannick Alléno key lessons he would take into the workd of gastronomy, with a 'French' lesson in Winchester along the way
Yannick Alléno is force-feeding us burgers. Force being a strong word, but he’s keen to discover any thoughts on which kind of burger would work in London. The buns alone are next level; steamed and fried, they manage to give you both the pillowy softness you want to soak up the burger juice, and a crisp outer shell that doesn’t fall to piece after the first bite. He’s invited us to Allénothèque, which, despite sounding like the chef’s eponymous nightspot, is actually where he shows his versatility and accessibility, even though he’s a man in possession of a small galaxy of stars.
In the 7th arrondissement of his home city of Paris, it’s across several floors, starting with a wine cellar – he’s passionate about wine, making his own in Bordeaux – plus art gallery and bistro, serving charcuterie boards. But also in the same building, there’s Père et Fils Burger par Alléno, which does burgers, really good burgers. The kind where flavours come together beautifully with every bite, without fear of key ingredients being lost in transit from plate to palette.
‘What do you think of this one? Now this one? You have to try this one,’ he questions, as we talk – with mouthfuls of burger – and with a TV camera pointed in our direction since he’s filming a documentary about extending his 14-restaurant portfolio into London for the first time. Park Lane’s Four Seasons is the destination for a Pavyllon London, to complement the other two – in Paris and Monte-Carlo.
‘I want to be in London because it’s the opening to the world,’ he says. ‘You have to speak English, so the world understands you. French chefs don’t speak English, and that means they’re not always understood, but if you want to talk about your food, you need to do it in English not French. When you speak about extraction, for example – his pioneering method of drawing flavour from vegetables for rich broths – you need the right sentences to be understood. That’s why we [French chefs]
lose a bit of time.’
The culinary fingerprints of Yannick are all across Paris: aside from Allénothèque and Père et Fils Burger par Alléno, there’s the 250-year-old Pavillon Ledoyen, east of the ChampsÉlysées, home to three of his
restaurants with six Michelin stars between them; then there’s Prunier Victor Hugo by Yannick Alléno, where you can get his take on the Christian Dior egg – poached eggs with caviar in the yolk; oysters with dill-infused almond milk; and salmon in a chardonnay jelly. He has his own chocolate shop too, Alléno & Rivoire, with patisserie chef Aurélien Rivoire. ‘Paris is my favourite place,’ says Yannick. ‘I love my city. It’s very rare to find a city with these kind of buildings, the history of food, and you just have so many good bistros, so many gastros, so much good sushi – you have all the world here. But never have I seen so much evolution as there has been in the past few years.
My parents managed bistros, so I grew up all over Paris,’ he continues. ‘I moved maybe 12 times – every one or two years.’
His earliest food memories, and indeed food education, weren’t from Paris, but from La Rosière, in south-eastern France, where summers were spent. ‘My grandma used to live in the middle of nowhere, like
Scotland, four people per km, in the mountains, where it snowed
every year,’ he explains. ‘She had 13 children and she used to joke, “In the winters here the nights are long, but my nightdress was short!”’
The harsh seasons meant food also had to be preserved, in whatever way possible. ‘After the war, there wasn’t much metal, so she used to do this dish that was chicken in a bottle. She’d take the skin of the
chicken, push it down the neck of the bottle, then the fat, then the meat, and she’d leave it there for the winter. Then in the summer, she’d get a glass cutter and take the bottom off and then cook it.’
The cousins would spend summers doing jobs, cutting wood, helping to cook. ‘With so many, Grandma couldn’t look after everyone, so the older ones had to take care of the younger ones, and my cousins
took care of me,’ he explains. ‘One, Jean-Marc, was a chef and I went to work with him – at a place called Mirman, in the village of La Canourgue. I’d be this kid in a kitchen where they cooked countryside food.’
'I spent five years detailing everything, down to the shape of bubbles in a soufflé – they shouldn’t be like a rugby ball’
He moved into the kitchens at 15, and was even sent to England for a spell – to Winchester, where it wasn’t just English he learnt. ‘My dad sent me there to learn, almost as punishment, as I’d “forgotten” to go to school,’ he says, adding, ‘It was also where I had my first French kiss!’
Back in France, his gastronomic education continued, working with the
greats. ‘The most interesting time for me was when I took the position of sous chef with Louis Grondard at Le Drouant,’ he explains. ‘He looked like a rugby man, and I learnt how to cook there – he gave me all the details you needed to become a good chef. I was taught how to know the taste, to feel it.
‘Simple lessons, like not burning the Cognac for an American sauce, how the carrot gives colouration to stock, not the meat – I spent five years detailing everything, even down to understanding the shape of
the bubbles in a good soufflé (they shouldn’t be like a rugby ball, they should be round).
‘Then I did Bocuse d’Or [the famed chef competition – he came second] in 1999, and after that I had a proposal to get my first head chef job [at Scribe], and I got two Michelin stars within four years of working.’
He spent ten years at Le Meurice, earning two and then three stars, before leaving in 2014 to take over Pavillon Ledoyen, a building rich in
history but now feeling all of its 200 or so years. Seven months after opening Alléno Paris it had three stars. Then L’Abysse, a Japanese restaurant that is the equivalent of a gastronomic love letter to a country where he spent some of his formative years – it earned two stars – and finally Pavyllon arrived and duly won a star too.
Where to eat in Paris beyond his empire? Yannick is full of ideas. ‘I love chef Jean Imbert’s Le Relais Plaza; very cool, very artistic,’ he begins. ‘Quinsou in the 6th arrondissement, then Origines in the 8th. One of the
best chefs in Paris today is Jean-François Piège, so you must go to Le Grand Restaurant, then you have to go to Nonos – it’s very cool, named
after the bones you give to the dog. And, if I want good cassoulet and Bordeaux, I’m going to La Fontaine de Mars.
‘The level of pastries in this city too – we’ve never had it so good. For the best pain au chocolat: Maxime Frédéric.’ Such is his list, he takes my pad to write down names. Alain Passard’s L’Arpège is added, as is Hôtel Plaza Athénée, together with two favourite places for wine, Cave Vino Sapiens and Legrand Filles et Fils, and, just in case you need a good butcher, Les Viandes du Champ-de-Mars.
‘The competition in Paris is crazy,’ admits Yannick, as he considers all the good places to eat and drink.
His rivals undoubtedly think the same when they look at his multi-starred empire. Does that add pressure? ‘You’re a little bit afraid when you get three stars,’ he confesses. ‘You think, “Is it the end, is it the beginning?”. You work so hard for it, then you have it and it’s, “Wow.”
‘When I first got three, I called Paul Bocuse, and he told me: “You have to go and have a shower, because today the world is hot, so open the water and enjoy it, because you never know how deep the reserve is – it could be two years, it could be 40 – you never know...”
YANNICK’ S HOTSPOTS
Martino Ruggieri was the executive chef of Alléno Paris for years. I am very happy to see him stand on his own in a restaurant with such avant-garde and generous flavours. What an honor to watch him gain recognition. maisonruggieri.fr
For me, Mallory is the rising star of French cuisine. To have so much talent but also humility at his age is significant. His cuisine is a combination of unique and original flavors that sublimate our traditional French dishes. After only one year of opening, he has already been
awarded a star at the age of 26 – how far will he go? mallory-gabsi.com
This is the restaurant where smoking and cooking by fire are the mainstay of the place. It’s all smoked in a smokehouse especially designed for the restaurant, before being cooked over a fire. A great place to go with company. braise.paris
What I love about Le Cheval Blanc hotels is the unparalleled quality of service, whether I’m in Courchevel for work or in Paris for a moment of relaxation; the attention to detail will always surprise me. chevalblanc.com
The ultimate Parisian hotel – tasteful and elegant with an arty feel that I love. Just for a relaxing afternoon by the most beautiful pool in Paris, this hotel is worth a visit. molitorparis.com
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