A Creative Chef, Pure and Simple

PARIS - Christian Le Squer was born in a coastal village in Brittany in 1962, and first set foot in Paris at the age of 20, when he came to cook in a popular Right Bank restaurant. Since then, the 36-year-old has passed through such august kitchens as Lucas-Carton and Taillevent, and two years ago won two Michelin stars while at the helm of the Grand Hotel Inter-Continental's Restaurant Opera. Early this year, he took over the reins of Ledoyen, one of those Champs-Elysees palaces that seem to bend in the wind: in and chic one moment, out and forgotten the next.

Ledoyen is on the upward curve (retaining its two Michelin stars this year, despite a change of chefs) and Le Squer might be considered among the ''typical'' up-and-coming Parisian chefs of the decade. His message is clear: The ingredient is king; food should be creative and surprising but easy to understand. - Living Day by Day Unlike most chefs of the previous generation - the Robuchons and Savoys, the Rostangs and the Dutourniers - he does not own his own restaurant.

Like some of the best of his peers - Frederic Anton at Le Pre Catelan, Philippe Braun at Laurent, Alain Soliveres at Les Elysees du Vernet - he sees it as an advantage. Le Squer's employer is none other than Vivendi (the French conglomerate with such properties as the Michelin three-star Alain Ducasse and the two-star L'Astor) and, as he says, ''We are not going to work in the same place from the age of 40 until retirement.

We live day by day.'' His take on grand modern French cuisine is that it's too evolved, needs too many people to do it right, and demands too much labor. (With 42 in the kitchen, doing 450 covers a day, he knows what he is talking about.) He also bemoans the fact that the generation just after him no longer tolerates restaurants' punishing hours.

Rare is the day off and, when it comes, it's spent catching up on the week's lost sleep. So his modern message is to keep it pure and keep it simple. A recent lunch in this butter-yellow mansion on the edge of the Champs-Elysees proved that his mind moves in the direction we want to go today: Gigantic and yet flavorful Provencal green asparagus was paired with huge fresh morels, a marriage of the woods and the garden, grass green and monk's robe brown, bathed in an acidulated sauce.

His take on the meaty, manly veal knuckle, a long-braised jarret de veau, also had a welcome modern translation, for the avalanche of vegetables that accompanied the meat as a garnish - of fresh fava beans, asparagus, Swiss chard and tomatoes - seemed more like the main dish than the meat. His signature dish - a tangle of giant langoustines from Brittany, two of them simply seasoned with a blend of coriander, fennel and star anise and pan-fried in olive oil, and another pair rolled in an herb-filled kadaif (the fine Greek pasta that looks like shredded wheat) and seared crisp - comes on like a fresh Atlantic breeze.

Desserts here are a delight, including paper-thin wafers filled with lemon cream and served with lemon ice cream, as well as some of the most delicious babas in town.

You have not heard the last of Le Squer. Look for more to come from this flower-filled Right Bank palace.


Carre des Champs Elysees
1 Avenue Dutuit
Paris 75008

Tel: 01-53-05-10-01.
Fax: 01-47-42-55-01.
Closed Saturday, Sunday, and August. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Visa. Menus at 320 (lunch only) and 620 francs. A la carte, 800 to 1,000 francs, not including wine.