Tennis and truffles mix with today's cuisine at Troisgros
When you step into the Troisgros establishment it is not unlikely that tennis will be the subject of first importance, running a close tie with food as the main subject of importance.Skip to next paragraph
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There are tennis cups and winning trophies on the wall in the lounge of the three-star Hotel des Freres Troisgros. And in the huge kitchen a bulletin-board lists people on the staff scheduled to play tennis in their own tournament.
Jean Troisgros plays tennis with as much enthusiasm as he handles a whisk or a chef's knife, for he does all his own preparation with incredible ease. He and his brother, Pierre, have been doing so for over 25 years.
The extraordinary brothers have an extraordinary restaurant with impeccable food and service, extraordinary warmth, and an exciting kitchen.
They are in the group of chefs who made nouvelle cuisine famous with their talent, individualism, and special respect for ingredients.
They grew up in their father's restaurant, located across the street from the railroad station, and it was their father who insisted on 10 years of classical training.
Both received it at the restaurant Lucas-Carton in Paris. Paul Bocuse also trained with them and the three worked at La Pyramide in Vienne for the great Fernand Point.
There they began developing the experimental ideas that resulted in the lighter cooking style that has changed French cooking in restaurants from the provinces to Paris and beyond.
As with all chefs who trained with Point, the emphasis is on quality of produce, but the Troisgros, along with Alain Chapel, are perhaps closest to the land.
Many of their dishes are of peasant origin, such as pigeon roasted with whole garlic cloves and their famous salmon with sorrel sauce. This dish started a new surge of interest in sorrel sauces, especially for fish, in restaurants all over the world.
They did away with the showy tableside serving performed by headwaiters, which often meant the food was cold by the time it was served.
Instead, they thought the chef should serve the food he had prepared, and they introduced large serving plates on which to arrange food and sauces in the best way.
The new cooking rejects unnecessarily complicated dishes and overly elaborate sauces. In many cases a sauce is placed on the plate first so that it is beneath the food, rather than covering it as in the past.
Foods are not cooked as much now -- duck breast slices and medallions of lamb are often served rare. Salads include cooked slices of meat.
Sauces are definitly lighter, usually eliminating flour and depending more on reductions of natural juices and broths or on vegetable purees.
Presentation is very important in the French cooking today and the oversized dinner plates are ideal for a kind of culinary art borrowed from Japanese tradition.
While I talked with Jean the next morning in the luxurious kitchen, it was easy to see that although the dining room is warm and attractive the kitchen is a complement to the high culinary standards of the house.
It is a beautiful, although functional, institutional kitchen, not windowless and closed-in as most are. It is large, open, light, and airy. There are chilled drawers, sinks running the length of the room and thermostatically controlled electric cooking surfaces.
We talked about cooking, both French and American. Jean posed a question.
''Why don't American chefs cook American foods and cook them well, rather than importing foreign things -- mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables?''
''There are wonderful foods in the United States - why does everyone ignore it in preference to foreign foods?''