The mention of French food typically evokes images of decadent dishes and fussy restaurants, but like any style of cooking, it has evolved with the times. Today’s chefs apply classic techniques to modern ingredients, creating recipes that are at once familiar and forward looking. Here, three chefs discuss these traditions and their renditions, bringing the original haute cuisine into the 21st century.
“People should stop thinking that French food is super heavy,” says Christophe Bellanca, corporate executive chef of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, which has 12 worldwide locations. “When I started cooking in 1986, we used a lot of butter and cream, but now, here in the U.S., I remove most of it.”
He cited his duck à l’orange as an example of a traditionally rich dish that benefits from a
“I cannot do duck à l’orange with a super-sweet sauce, so I use classic French technique and adapt it for 2019,” Bellanca explains. “I poach the duck first for one minute, put some spice on it, and let it dry for four days in the fridge, so you don’t have too much fat on the skin.”
Rather than being a concession to today’s health-focused lifestyles, lighter recipes do a better job of showcasing the ingredients, Bellanca says. “I make a cold zucchini velouté, removing the butter and cream, and it tastes better because it’s more focused on the vegetable,” he adds.
Le Chateau in La Crosse, Wis., where chef/owner Tim Ewers creates a menu that’s at once classic and approachable. Instead of crunchy bread, his twist on Tournedos Rossini uses a house-made potato cake to absorb the drippings from beef tenderloin and foie gras.
“The potato cake is utilized the same way, but we’ve modified it since the Midwest is known for steak and potatoes,” he explains. “It’s a more elegant dish because a slice of bread underneath the meat just doesn’t give it that extra touch.”
At Chicago’s Margeaux Brasserie, Executive Chef Greg Biggers injects interactivity into the dining experience.
“One dish that gets wows is our lobster gnocchi,” he says. “We make Parisian-style gnocchi using pâte à choux—the classic pastry dough—as a base rather than potato.”
It’s served in a small copper pot with poached Maine lobster and topped with a savory almond wheel cracker. Adding to the drama, a vadouvan curry sauce is poured tableside over the cracker, which diners then crack and stir into the gnocchi underneath.
“The modern touches really make it an interactive dish,” says Biggers.