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robert brown

Guy Savoy

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Dorie, welcome to eGullet.com. It's great to see you here and wonderful to get that early report on Hiramatsu. My predisposition to love Paris and being there makes me happy to see that city keep it's preeminence as the food capital of the western world, even if it has to import chefs from Japan. That the Japanese chef/owner of a chain of French restaurants in Japan is able to come to Paris and grab a star in almost record breaking time is a matter of some historical significance.

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That the Japanese chef/owner of a chain of French restaurants in Japan is able to come to Paris and grab a star in almost record breaking time is a matter of some historical significance.

Bux -- I wonder if Brown's time working in Michelin Asia might have contributed to his confidence in Hiramatsu's approach. I have been thinking about 2002 being Brown's first full year with Michelin in the context of Guy Savoy.  For the chefs that have awaited their third star for very lengthy periods (Roellinger, Guy Savoy and arguably Dutournier; I would not consider Rostang to legitimately have comparable hopes as the prior three), this year could have been viewed as a particularly important one. It may have marked the best time for a "fresher look" at their prospects for ascension or stagnation.

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Second guessing is either hard or easy depending on one's need to be convincing. I wonder how much influence Brown exerts. How much spin can he give to the inspector's reports. While I recall reading about him when he was given his current position, I didn't recall that he had spent time in Asia. I imagine Hiramatsu got his star the same way Barbot did, with the food. There is a question of confidence about a chef with a chain of restaurants in Japan. Can he adequately maintain standards in Paris while he's in Japan? Being in residence the first year may work as much against him as not being there. In the former, one has to believe there will be no drop off in quality when he's gone and in the latter one may feel the need to look more closely and be more critical.

When a chef is passed over, some different elements come into play. Sometimes one gets the impression that a chef (or any artist) has had their shot. If a chef is bypassed as his contemporaries are chosen, the public often stops thinking the third star is due and begins to believe the restaurant has reached its plateau. This becomes even more self fulfilling as new chefs and new trends come along and make the older two star restaurant look dated or force the chef to believe he had to innovate in a way that's not right for him in the attempt to be seen in a new light.

However chefs react to a new edition that brings bad news, even if only relatively bad, there is always a the sense that this is the official ranking. I may have my favorite restaurants as well as my list of ones I think are not worth the price and you may have your own lists that drive your reservations, but while you may toy with the idea of eating in all the Michelin three star restaurants in France while you're on that side of the Atlantic, how much thought have you given to eating at all the GaultMillau 19s, let alone anyone else's favorites. I would think the weight of the Michelin rating can begin to weigh heavy on a kitchen after years of being bypassed.

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Now I recall and my guess is still the same, that his job calls more for him to explain, or to diplomatically not explain the Michelin red guide to the public and press, than to be directly involved with the ratings. However, as you note, his entry to Michelin was an inspector and that's a strength for him in his current position.

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However chefs react to a new edition that brings bad news, even if only relatively bad, there is always a the sense that this is the official ranking.

For members who may be focusing on the French board and not monitoring the UK board, see the discussion under "Those stars in full" in "United Kingdom and Ireland" too (a bit more theoretical, for those who are interested).

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Robert-Although I will post on the dinner we had seperately, we were afraid to ask Monsieur Savoy the question last night althougn Cabrales tried pretty hard to ask it indirectly. So the "jewery" is still out. But my guess from looking at his visage, or punim depending on your slant, is that he's not. But the waiter did tell us that his mother runs a restaurant in the Savoie. So for the tea leaf readers, one can say that his last name is a "stage name." But maybe M. Alain Weill can furnish us with more detail. And it's "fresser," not fesser were I come from.

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Cabrales, to answer your query about what we ate at Hiramatsu (is it too late? have you already been?) -- our three starters were the terrific foie gras and oyster combo; a dish that was billed as ravioli with saint pierre and, I think it said, confit of legumes, which turned out to be a thin blanket of pasta covering saint pierre and a nicely done ratatouille; and the seafood salad, the one real disappointment, although the olive oil that is used in the salad -- and in several other dishes -- was so good we asked for the name (and then forgot to collect it at the end of lunch -- aaarrgggh!).  For mains we had the venison en croute with crushed chestnuts and a little caramelized onion filled with a veloute (precious but yummy) -- the winning dish; the bar with lemon confit, the lemon confit being the stand-out in the dish and having nothing to do with salt-cured citron confit -- instead, it was a lemon puree mounted with butter and that same great olive oil; and I never got to taste the third dish and can't remember what the fish was, but it was in a mustard and gazpacho nage.  At the sommelier's suggestion, we drank a Condrieu from Yves Cuilleron -- not a hardship.

I'm in Paris now and have a reservation to return to Hiramatsu for lunch Wednesday.  I'm anxious to get a second taste, especially after Francois Simon's article in yesterday's Figaro, which said that Hiramatsu had, with the restaurant's luxe fittings and its "bubbly" cuisine, "trapped" the Michelin into giving him the star.  According to Simon, the French were only too willing to fall into the trap, too.  In his lead, Simon notes that Hiramatsu is a very successful businessman in Japan and that he has even had success with Italian restauranta, so Simon wonders if Hiramatsu didn't say to himself, "Why not try for a starred restaurant in Paris?"  I look forward to Cabrales' post on her meal and will check in after I've had mine.

Thanks for the welcome, Bux.

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Steve, I'm incredibly embarrassed. It is "fresser" and payback for "than" rather than "then". What makes it worse is that when I e-mailed Amanda Hesser about her story on Maine belons, I suggested she change her e-mail address from "ahesser@nytimes to "afesser@nytimes". At least she replied, but only about the oysters. But Oy-veh.That's what happens when you grow up a Jew in the bush leagues.

I always thought Guy Savoy looked like a tribesman, but this was c. 1976. Maybe he has grown out of it or converted for the extra bread. I'll ask Alain Weill (as in "Oy-veh"). How close did Cabrales get, and how did Guy or the staff guy respond?

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Plotnicki, why all the discomfort? What's wrong with just asking: "Are you Jewish?"

All you gentile foodies out there, would you be insulted if someone asked you this question? You'd probably be amused at worst, right?

And if you were Jewish, you'd probably not be insulted either, though I suppose some might be. I wouldn't.

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I'd probably be amused, but honestly if I was a chef, I'd also wonder why of all things this is what a diner asked of me. To not focus on my food and their meal, but on my ethnicity would make me wonder why they came to the restauant--was it not the food. As I diner I want to make sure the chef believes I'm a devotee at least while he's still feeding me.

My response of course would be, "why are you interested," but any question would give him the answer he wanted.

:wink:

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Cabrales tried pretty hard to ask it indirectly.

Robert -- I should add that I received no support from Steve P or Marc (MarcCosnarddesCloset) in my efforts when Guy Savoy was at our table (on 3-4 separate occasions) :wink:, except when Steve P asked some questions of the maitre d'. Here were my indirect attempts: (1) "Where do you receive your inspiration, from your family?" (Answer: his mother is a professional chef, he gets inspiration from products and from all sorts of places), plus related follow-up questions, (2) "Has your family been in that region [of origin] long?" (Answer: 50+ years), and (3) "Where there any particularly meaningful aspects to earning three stars?" (Answer: Vague answer regarding meaningfulness). So there. Steve P, Marc and I each have a 2 hr-plus video offered to us by the restaurant, featuring G. Savoy and certain French products. One of us should review it for Robert and Steven's sake.

Bux -- I agree that the question was inappropriate. I'm glad no direct questions were posed to take away from a period of such happiness for G. Savoy. In hindsight, I feel dissatisfied with myself that I asked what I did, even indirectly. It should not matter what G. Savoy's origin is; people should speak about his cuisine.

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So, it's not important that Jackie Robinson was black? It's not important that Benjamin Disraeli was a Jew? Whenever a member of a minority -- particularly a minority that has at one time been oppressed, enslaved, or murdered en masse -- achieves victory or recognition never before afforded that group, it's a triumph for all humankind. Now that's not to say there is ritualized antisemitism in the Michelin star-rating system, or that being a chef is fundamentally a function of one's religion, race, nationality, or ethnicity. But there is a history of antisemitism in France (as well as lots of other places), and cultural background is an important element of some chefs' cooking. So it seems to me still a matter of legitimate speculation whether we do or do not have the first Jewish Michelin three-star chef on our hands. Furthermore, even were it not significant, it would still in my mind be an entirely legitimate subject of curiosity. When the chef sets foot in the dining room, he makes the restaurant about more than the food. Chefs of high-profile restaurants are public figures, celebrities, and to be curious about things other than what they cook is simply human. Guy Savoy doesn't have to tell us whether or not he's Jewish. This is a big advantage that religious minorities have over racial/ethnic minorities -- they look the same as other people (if anything has raised my eyebrows in this discussion, it has not been the Jew-not-a-Jew game, but rather the implication that Jews look a certain way). But I still think there's no harm in asking him. Marcus Samuelsson, the chef at Aquavit here in New York, is black, from Ethiopia, orphaned and raised in Scandinavia. He's now the chef at America's top Scandinavian restaurant. I find that interesting, not because it affects his cooking, but simply because it's interesting. Am I a bad person for finding that interesting?

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So, it's not important that Jackie Robinson was black? ... Whenever a member of a minority -- particularly a minority that has at one time been oppressed, enslaved, or murdered en masse -- achieves victory or recognition never before afforded that group, it's a triumph for all humankind.

Steven -- I agree that the breaking of barriers by members of minorities (including women as Michelin-starred chefs in France, by the way) is commendable, and noteworthy. It's not that Jackie Robinson's race is irrelevant, it's the bluntness of asking the question in a context in which it might be misinterpreted by the responding party, whose day it should be. I am not saying that whether G Savoy is Jewish is irrelevant; I am saying that, in many contexts, a diner's direct question might not have been the best thing when the chef's perceptions are taken into account.  I am saying that, for me, I am glad I asked no direct questions and, in hindsight, I regret having even made the attempt. I am not upset at myself; I would merely have done things differently.

Imagine you are G Savoy; you have cooked an elaborate dinner for eight people, showing great accommodation as the party sought an all-truffle menu, but not the all-truffle tasting menu you have listed. You have given the meal your best shot by offering many added dishes, greeting the group upon arrival and several times thereafter, having your maitre d' offer good amounts of truffle shavings with respect to relevant dishes, gifting the group a large veal shank and all sorts of things. Suddenly, a diner asks what your religious affiliation/origin is. If you were G Savoy, would that affect your perception of how meaningful your meal had been to the diners?!  Note my prior post focused on what it is appropriate to discuss with the chef. If your curiosity spurs you to collect information about G Savoy's religious affiliation in other ways, that at least would not have the potentially negative effects described.

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It wouldn't bother me to be asked whether I'm Jewish, gay, rich, or anything else personal. But that's just me -- I prefer the direct approach. Were I a Jewish Michelin three-star chef, I'd actually advertise it -- I'd end a conversation like the one you all had with, "And, I'm Jewish. The first Jewish Michelin three-star chef. Yep, that's me. Name used to be Schatzberger." Some might not want it that way, I grant that. Still, I think for a celebrity chef to be sensitive to such things would be at least naive. I assure you it would come as no surprise to the chef that people are interested in things other than his food. I'm sure -- assuming his attitudes fall within the range of expected human attitudes -- he's interested in such things too, when he visits other chefs' restaurants.

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France is an incredibly anti-semitic country. I live with a wonderful Jewish woman who was at our dinner at Guy Savoy sporting her star. I admit that I did chicken out and not support Cabrales indirect line of questioning but the chef was so nice to us and I know what that question means to the French. If you are Jewish it hearkens back to a terrifying past. If you are not Jewish it is always taken as an accusation. You could only understand it if you live here. France is not a melting pot. Proudly displaying your Jewish heritage is often seen as an invitation to abuse. That is not how it should be but that is how it is. France's various religious groups (overwhelming non practicing Catholics, 5 million Muslims although few practice and a smattering of Jews, Protestants and others) get along by not focusing on religion. It is a taboo subject, like talking about income or politics. It is also one of the most voltatile subjects when it does get mentioned, witness the mass demonstrations whenever the government hints at cutting state subsidies for Catholic schools. Comparing attitudes about religion in one country to another is like comparing apples to ranges, they are different and Vive la difference!

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but the chef was so nice to us

Marc -- I'm glad that you didn't help out on my indirect inquiries.  :wink:  And G Savoy was incredibly nice to us, as Steve P's upcoming post on the dinner will illustrate! I should add that G Savoy appeared to be basking in happiness. It might have been particularly nice for the chef (if he had had time to think about it) that our dinner was so soon (less than two weeks) after the Michelin announcement, and Steve P (and likely most of the diners who were there Saturday night) had made their reservations significantly in advance of the announcement.

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Marc, if that's all true, it makes me even more interested in Guy Savoy's Jewishness or lack thereof, and it also makes me want to get on a plane right now, stand on a streetcorner in Paris, and ask every passer-by if he or she is Jewish.

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it makes me even more interested in Guy Savoy's Jewishness

Steven -- If you are comfortable discussing it, why precisely are you so curious about this aspect of G Savoy as a person? Were you interested in the fact that Scottha Khunn, sic, is from Cambodia, and did you discern any Asian aspects to his cooking at Le Cirque?

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I find the question of a chef's Jewishness more interesting than the question of a chef's Cambodianness for the simple reason that I'm Jewish and proud of it. And I like to feel proud on behalf of Jews who have succeeded in areas where it might not be expected (baseball, Michelin three-star restaurants, etc.). Now, a Cambodian Jew, that would interest me a great deal . . .

Still, I'm interested in Samuelsson and Kuhnn's ethnic backgrounds, because as a Jew I identify with any member of any presently or formerly oppressed minority who has succeeded in an unusual area (for that minority). As I mentioned before, I see it as a victory for all humankind. Not that I've ever overcome any adversity or done anything noteworthy -- gee, a Jewish food writer and lawyer in New York, gosh, that's amazing -- but I'm still vicariously proud through those who have.

My reasons aren't all idealistic, though. I also just enjoy playing the game of Jew/not-a-Jew, and I assume members of most minorities have similar discussions. "He's Cambodian, didn't you know?" must be something that Cambodians dining at Le Cirque said with pride, interest, or a combination thereof, when they learned of Khunn's extraction.

I should also add, in light of Marc's comments, that I have found chefs to be among the most generous and unprejudiced people in the world. Several important French chefs have made a point of cooking in Israel, the kosher dietary laws are part of the curriculum at the French culinary academies, and at a dinner with Jean-Michel Lorain a couple of years ago he seemed entirely at ease and enthusiastic about discussing issues of religion, race, and culture. I also think that if you have a three-star restaurant in France, you can't exist without the business you get from Jews and Asians, which tends to give you a dose of pragmatism when it comes to evaluating your feelings towards minorities.

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Several important French chefs have made a point of cooking in Israel, the kosher dietary laws are part of the curriculum at the French culinary academies, and at a dinner with Jean-Michel Lorain a couple of years ago he seemed entirely at ease and enthusiastic about discussing issues of religion, race, and culture.

For members interested in the materials mentioned by Steven, see "The long road to eGullet" under "Member Bios" (p. 1).  

One question I have wondered about is whether one can tell a chef is a woman from her cuisine. For example, have members been to Pic in Valence since Anne-Sophie Pic took over? And are male and female diners' experiences modified by Annisa, with a female maitre d' as well?

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I'd encourage a new thread for that one. We've got enough going on here!

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I'd be interested in knowing if a chef was left handed. I can identify with left handed people and the hardships they've had to overcome dealing with so many tools that are designed for right handed folks. If someone were to ask a chef if he was left handed while he was feeding them, I suspect he'd think that person was an idiot or someone who was trying hard to avoid talking about his talents and an appreciation of the meal. On second thought, the only question would be a determination of the sort of idiot the questioner was.

Somewhere else on this board, I mentioned a one armed sommelier. This is something that definitely affected how he approached his job. I did not need to ask him if he was one armed, as I might not have to ask Samuelsson if he is of African heritage. At the time, I can't recall any curiosity about whether one armed people might have been proud by his success or whether they flocked to the restaurant in support.

If Cabrales starts a thread on women chefs, I will make a recommendation to her of someone I like not far from Michel Bras.

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I find issues of left- and right-handedness interesting, especially when they affect on-the-job performance. I find it fascinating that a much larger percentage of baseball players, for example, are southpaws than in the general population. Also, redheads interest me a great deal.

I get your point, though, Bux. You think being Jewish, or left-handed, or whatever, is irrelevant to one's merit as a chef. I agree. But that doesn't change anything I've said above.

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that doesn't change anything I've said above

Except that I'd avise any diner not to ask the chef if he's Jewish, female, left handed or raise any issue other than how did you get to be such a genius, while he's still feeding you. I'd hold all those questions for after you've paid the bill, unless you intend on coming back.

:wink:

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