Guy Savoy: An Open Letter to Michelin

Dear Michelin directors and inspectors,

Every spring I wait eagerly for your annual judgment on the restaurants of France, a territory I have covered closely and passionately for the past 21 years. For at least the past 10 years, I have waited with fingers crossed, in hopes that you would finally come to your senses and anoint chef Guy Savoy with his much deserved third star. What on earth are you waiting for?

Maybe there is something you are not getting, or have not noticed, so let me refresh your memory and perhaps fill in the blanks for you. I first met Guy Savoy in 1980, when he was part of a band of up and coming kid chefs, among them Alain Dutournier and Joel Robuchon. It was a muddled time of nouvelle cuisine, with chefs opening restaurants on the knowledge of 10 dishes, and you could pretty much predict you would eat the same food all over. But it was clear then that chefs such as Savoy, Dutournier, and Robuchon were not one-season wonders, but were here to stay.

Back then, Guy worked in a tiny kitchen in a small restaurant that bore his name, on the Rue Duret in the 16th arrondissement. He had one, maybe two assistants, and quickly became known for a style of cooking that was light, aesthetically appealing, and fashioned from the ingredients he loved the best. He quickly received his first merited Michelin star. Most of all, he was famed for his signature green color, his astute use of fresh herbs and dishes filled with an avalanche of vegetables. Today that may not sound like much, but remember, those were the days of single slices of kiwi and crazy salads of foie gras and green beans. Vegetables were still considered garnishes back then, not worthy of the star billing that Savoy was already giving them.

In 1987, when Gilbert and Maguy le Coze closed their famed Le Bernardin to devote themselves to their New York restaurant of the same name, Guy happily took over the large and spacious dining room near the Arc de Triomphe, on Rue Troyon. Here, he continued to grow and grow and grow, and astonish us with truly original and unusual modern fare. Many of his signature dishes can still be found there today: Such as his brilliant oysters en nage glacée, cooked in their own juices and turned into a soothing jelly. Or the incomparable artichoke soup, laced with fresh black truffles and perfect slim slices of Parmesan, a soup that is ever fragrant, satisfying, and memorable. And no cook has ever served lentils so well: Savoy cleverly pairs those earthy, peppery, flinty little beans with the fresh French black truffle, truly the earth tasting like the earth and giving of itself.

Besides the fact that his cooking is unquestionably three star, Savoy has many qualities that other three star chefs cannot begin to compete with. He is a true man of the soil, born in 1953 in a small village in the Isère, where his mother tended the local café and where his father was a municipal gardener. Vegetables and greens, the freshest of the fresh, were the rule. He not only searches out the best suppliers for his fish and his sausages, his meat and his game, his cheese and his wines, but he makes friends with all of them. On a recent year he filmed the regular visits to his suppliers all over the map of France and then, at the end of the year, invited them all for a knock-down drag out feast at his Paris restaurant. His generosity in unbounded, and totally real.

Not content to limit his creativity and reach to grand dining, Savoy was and is the most successful of several chefs to create a series of "baby bistros," or spin-offs of satellite restaurants that bear his signature and style but allow other chefs to shine. With incredible generosity, Savoy has set up and supported a series of young chefs - from the talented William Ledeuil at Les Bookinistes to Stéphane Perraud at Cap Vernet - and gives them free reign. The result is a series of restaurants each with its own personality, its own style of cuisine, reflecting the youthful, inventive, creative spirit of Savoy himself.

Do you also know how good he is to his staff, and what a mentor he can be, in this world that greatly lacks men and women who are true motivators? I know a young American woman who began peeling carrots in the basement of the Rue Troyon restaurant and in a few years worked her way up to fish chef! There are not many French chefs willing to give either a foreigner or a woman (much less one that is both!) such a fighting chance.

So here we have it, Michelin inspectors and directors. At age chef who excels at taking the best products France has to offer -- from its vineyards to its waters to its fields -- and presents them with majesty, pride, and skill. A chef who is a one-man cooking school, bringing up and encouraging whole generations of young French chefs. And a chef who does it all cheerfully, with great spirit, and intense pride.

Michelin men, what more could you ask of him? Give Guy Savoy his well-merited third star, I beg you.

Guy Savoy
18 rue Troyon
Paris 75017
Tel: 01 43 80 40 61
Fax: 01 46 22 43 09