Michel Guérard has been making food history for over forty years. The father of “cuisine minceur” or slimming cuisine, began his career when he was 14 years old as a pastry chef, eventually attaining the coveted status of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” in 1958.
Guérard earned his first Michelin stars at The Pot-au-Feu, a restaurant he opened in the 1960s in the Paris suburb of Asnières. He drew praise and criticism for his radical take on Escoffier-influenced traditional French cuisine: fresh produce, no sauces, smaller portions. He experimented with this “nouvelle cuisine” by making sauces lighter, and putting vegetables front center. His encounter with Christine Barthélémy, his future wife and heir to a thermal spa kingdom, would shape the rest of his culinary career.
These days, Michel and his wife Christine run a thermal spa in the Landes region of France at Eugenie-Les-Bains, named for Napoleon’s wife who was a fan of the waters in the late 1800s. When the couple arrived in the 1970s, the town attracted a scant 200 visitors who had to content themselves with lackluster low-calorie dishes like shredded carrots. Michel set about revolutionizing the restaurant, combining health and pleasure. His philosophy is that food is an integral part of any cure, so it needs to taste good to work.
Guérard landed a cover feature in Time magazine in 1976 for his nouvelle cuisine and three Michelin stars the following year, which catapulted him onto the international scene. Forty years later, Eugenie-Les-Bains draws 10,000 visitors a year, including many from outside of France. That’s quite a feat, considering the remote location of the spa, nearly 800 kilometers south of Paris. And the cuisine is no less inventive than it was when Guérard started out. On my visit, I was astonished to see the 81-year-old Guérard buzzing about the kitchen and dining room, looking like the very vision of health.
Guérard and his wife have had a lot of success in Eugenie-Les-Bains, but they’ve not been content to keep it all for themselves. Earning the Michelin trio allowed Guérard and Christine to expand their resort and hire local workers. They also opted to train local inns on how to cook healthfully, rather than simply build housing on their own resort. The most recent project was the construction of a cooking school in 2013, where chefs come to learn the techniques of nouvelle cuisine, that is still fresh and delicious after all these years!
Below are the images from Les Prés d’Eugénie restaurant (3 Michelin stars)