Paris -- So what would you cook for lunch if all 37 Michelin three-star chefs turned up on your doorstep?
Chef Alain Senderens (one of the illustrious 37) thought long and hard, and as is wont, he began with the wines as he planned an early October lunch to celebrate 100 years of the Michelin guide.
Let's see, what shall we pair with a 1998 Château Pape Clément white? The wine evokes a touch of citrus, a lot of white fruit, hmmm. Let's go for a very creamy mound of polenta, orange the color or an orange, colored by the brilliant red coral of lobster, seasoned with a good hit of lemon zest a touch of ginger, and one giant, moist, tender lobster claw to set it all of? Delicious? Silly, how could it not be.
Next challenge, a special cuvée of the illustrious champagne Gosset, the cuvée celebris 1990. Now it gets really interesting. Ok, we have the wine, but shall it be by the bottle or the magnum? Big difference. For Senderens, the master of pairing food with wine, the magnum called out for raw mushrooms, the bottle (which tasted older, more aged, because of its condensed size) seemed to beg for cooked mushrooms. So there we had it, a trio of the freshest, most moist wild cèpes, or meaty boletus mushrooms. Two versions went with the magnum: one cut into a fine julienne and seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil, another cut into thick slices and marinated. Another win. The third version, to go with the meatier champagne in the bottle, was stuffed with minced mushroom and cooked whole, to a tender, rich meatiness. Did someone say meat?
Now we move on to a red Bordeaux Graves, Château Pape Clément 1990 (yes, rich and meaty meaty). Well, pigeon of course, touched with a super-delicate, almost infinitesimal taste of licorice (reglisse) and teamed up with rounds of very very tender turnips. Zap! Another wine, another paring that makes your mouth and your palate happy to be, well, a mouth and a palate.
The cheese course was not a cinch but almost. A 1985 Rozes vintage port, rinsing the palate that has just devoured creamy bits of fourme d'Ambert, the rich and memorable cow's milk blue cheese from the Auvergne. Senderens sent us all swooning with his spicy brioche, spiked with cinnamon and dried fruits.
The lunch was a walk down memory lane for many. For Paul Bocuse (three Michelin stars in Lyon for 35 years) and Paul Troisgros ( three Michelin stars in Roanne for 33 years) there was talk of the day they met on this very spot, the restaurant Lucas Carton 50 years ago, when the luxurious Art Nouveau restaurant was a bastion of classic French cuisine. Both Bocuse and Troisgros were each 25 years old, and as they recall, here they were, cooking brand name Escoffier cuisine from the chef's bible of the time, Grignoire et Saulnier.
(Together, along with the Haeberlin family of the Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace, the three restaurants have 100 years of three stars.)
"There are not many here in this room who remember classical French cooking," mused Bocuse. "Does it matter that they don't? Not really," he declared, ever in a jovial, contented mood.
Around the room, each three-star chef and restaurateur had a chance to say a word. For restauranteur Jean-Claude Vrinat, who took over Paris 's Taillevent from his father, the decision to become a restaurateur came - you guessed it - while dining at Lucas Carton. Other chefs had passed through this kitchen, include Paris 's Pierre Gagnaire and Burgundy's Jacques Lameloise.
For Michel Guérard of France's southwest, the challenge of maintaining three stars is "like Michelin asking us to be Olympic champions every day." For Bernard Loiseau of Burgundy, "the toughest thing in life is to endure."
At the end of the day, Alain Senderens had the last word: "One can say that today, I am the only Michelin three-star chef who is working!"
While some items from the Michelin lunch may or may not show up on the menu at Lucas Carton, diners can always be assured of intelligent wine and food pairing, any season, any time of year.
9, place de la Madeleine
Tel: 01 42 65 22 90
Fax: 01 42 65 06 23
All major credit cards. Closed the first three weeks of August, Saturday lunch, all day Sunday, and Monday lunch. 395-franc lunch menu; A la carte, 750 to 1140 francs, including service but not wine.