Chef Michel Troisgros: Simplicity and Refinement, Part 1

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The French chef shares what it was like to work in an iconic California kitchen
Michel Troisgros

Michel Troisgros

“[T]hat time of my life gave me a real sense of what liberty is and what being yourself is.”

This is the first in a three-part interview with chef Michel Troisgros. You can find the second here, and the third here.

Michel Troisgros, the famed French chef, represents the third generation of the celebrated culinary family holding court since 1930 at La Maison Troisgros in the small town of Roanne, west of Lyon. The present patriarch of the family now accompanied by his two sons, Cesar and Leo, is carrying forth the family tradition and name not only in his operations in France but also overseas. Michel's grandparents, Jean Baptiste and his wife Marie, could not have envisioned when they relocated from Burgundy and opened the doors to their small Hotel-Restaurant des Platanes across from the town’s train station that three more generations would follow in their footsteps. Their two sons, Jean and Pierre, grew up in the small family business and then in their teens set off to train in some of the best kitchens in Paris, Normandy, and the Basque region. After acquiring their certification (CAP) they joined the kitchen of the acclaimed Parisian restaurant Lucas Corton.

By a happy coincidence, living legend Paul Bocuse was in the same kitchen and there began a friendship that has influenced French gastronomy over the ensuing decades. The two brothers then returned to train with Ferdinand Point and Paul Mercier at La Pyramide in Vienne before heading back to Paris to Maxim’s and the Hotel de Crillon, before family duty brought them home to Roanne. The family hostelry, which had been renamed Hotel Moderne, very soon began to be known as les Freres Troisgros where the brothers put their skills to work in the kitchen while their father took care of the dining room.

The first Michelin star came in 1955, the second in 1965, and the third in 1968, and they have been retained since. Pierre's delectable iconic salmon in sorrel sauce, which is believed to have earned the second star, is still the iconic dish of the house. The forward-thinking Pierre Troisgros was one of the first French chefs of his time to venture into the Japanese markets where he opened several boutiques in Tokyo in 1980. 

Tragedy struck with the passing away of his brother Jean in 1983, and Pierre needed his oldest son Michel by his side to continue the family legacy. Michel Troisgros accompanied by his wife Anne-Marie was then following the footsteps of his father and uncle by traveling and training in restaurants in France and beyond. Michel and Anne-Marie's love story began at school in Lycée Technique Hotelier in Grenoble when he was just sixteen and led to a life together pursuing a mutual passion. They then settled in Roanne upon their return to raise their three children while working to modernize and expand the family business by refurbishing the Relais & Chateau listed restaurant and hotel.

First they added the “Le Central” annex to serve traditional bistro cuisine while Michel added an international flair to the formal restaurant. In 2001 they opened Le Koumir in Moscow and in 2004 ventured into Paris with the Table du Lancaster, no longer associated with them. 2006 brought "La Colline du Colombier" outside of Roanne, and in the same year the eponymous Michel Troisgros restaurant opened its doors at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. The couple’s travels took them to London, Brussels, New York, Tokyo, and San Francisco among other cities, and Michel trained with the likes of Alain Chapel, Roger Verge, Michel Gerard, Michel Bourdain, and Alice Waters. Wife Anne- Marie worked in various hotels brought their international flair to the family operations. In 1993 Michel took over the reins of the kitchen from Pierre, bringing his minimalistic flair and trademark use of acidity to enhance the flavors of his compositions. Awards such as the Gault-Millau Chef de l'Annee in 2003, and the Legion d'Honneur in 2004, followed.

At Maison Troisgros, the kitchen windows overlook to lush gardens, enabling hotel and restaurant guests to watch the orchestrated ballet in the kitchen as Michel and his two sons create their magic. The operation is slated to move to its new home just a few kilometers away in the neighboring countryside in 2016. Marie-Pierre, the decorator and designer, will once again work her magic to create the perfect backdrop to her husband and sons creations. The kitchen famously utilizes the region’s bounty, benefitting from the family's long association with producers and wine makers in the region. The famed wine cellars hold over 40,000 bottles for the pleasure of oenophiles. Longstanding fans of the house may rest assured the signature l'escalope de saumon a l'oseille will still be served at the new location, being one of the classics of nouvelle cuisine first created in the Troisgros kitchens in 1962.

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