As If the Angels Were Cooking

PARIS – Of all the chefs I have spent time with over the years, few have impressed me with their depth and stability as has Benoit Guichard, on his own since 1996 at the famed restaurant Jamin in Paris’s 16th arrondissement.

Before that he could be found fine-tuning his talents as the faithful lieutenant to Joel Robuchon, both at Jamin and later at Restaurant Joel Robuchon on avenue Raymond Poincare.

Today, he appears full-grown and very much his own man, with a style that is classic, contemporary, modern, even touched a bit by Asian inspirations. If someone wants to fully understand what is truly great about French food and about classical French training – the discipline, the rigors, the constant search for excellence on all levels – then they should reserve a table at today’s Jamin.

Guichard – with two well-merited Michelin stars to his credit -- is now cooking on all burners, and has fine tuned his style, which is by no means static. His menu changes almost day to day, as one ingredient enters the market and another departs. He seems to be in a “wrap” mood, a little conceit that is reminiscent of Asian food and one I love. On one visit we found a perfect rectangle of turbot wrapped in bright green spinach leaves, almost a gift-wrapped package to please the palate, sauced in a delicate and golden Champagne sauce and flanked by a pair of fat, fragrant and perfectly cooked green asparagus, the first of season from Provence.

A starter might include an almost Chinese-flavored morsel of chicken wrapped in a veil of dough and expertly deep-fried. The breast of the famed breast chicken is “wrapped” in a super-fine bread coating that seems to have been handled with the fingertips of an angel.

Another evening, a complete sense of well-being came over me as the waiter delivered a first-course of a giant, soft-cooked egg enveloped once again in that angelic bread coating. The now-golden egg sat on a bed of wilted spinach dabbed with a rich truffle sauce. Alongside, a trio of perfect green asparagus added proper contrast in color, flavor, pure enjoyment.

I can never get enough langoustines, and here the chef who hails from Brittany’s langoustine-rich waters, knows what to do. The least possible! A duo of giant langoustines are wrapped into a delicate homemade pasta, all floating in an unctuous chestnut broth. Here, the marriage is magic, for the flavor of the deep and dense flavor of the chestnut seems to pick up right where the lingering flavor of the langoustine left off, almost like finishing a sentence.

Guichard can go classic and homey when he wants to, and nothing is more satisfying than his long-braised joue de boeuf, or unctuous beef cheeks pairs with gigantic rounds of pasta coated with melted Comté cheese from the Jura.

On one visit, the finale ended was a rich and satisfying chocolate feuillete, a truly angelic puff pastry; on another, it was a roasted mango glazed with a highly reduced pink grapefruit sauce and served with a soothing citrus granite alongside.

There are some treasures on the wine list, and current discoveries include two selections from the region of the lovely village of Minerve in the Languedoc. The Chateau de Gourgazaud -- owned by Parisian businessman Roger Piquet -- is beginning to make some nice waves. His 100% Viognier 2001 is full of the ripest fruits – pears, citrus, a touch of honey – and the 1999 red Minervois La Liviniere Reserve would make any wine lover smile, with a fine balance, and the roundness and plumy notes of Merlot paired with the flavors of red fruits ripened by the summer sun.

32 rue du Longchamp
Paris 16
Tel: 01 45 53 00 07
Fax : 01 45 53 00 15
Email :

Closed Saturday and Sunday. All major credit cards. 53 € lunch menu, 95 € dinner menu. A la carte, 105 to 135 €, including service but not wine.