France's celebrity chefs: out of the kitchen, into the limelight
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``Gu'erard was the first great chef to put out a book,'' says Claude Lebey, director of Laffont's culinary collection.Skip to next paragraph
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Gu'erard then set out to change the style of French cooking. He had grown up on the tasty, heavy cooking of the peasant. The modern world required a lighter, more artistic touch, he felt. It should be a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach. Voil`a ``nouvelle cuisine!''
In recent years, Gu'erard has pushed this approach further, haute cuisine for dieters. Gourmet-minded slimmers of all nationalities flock to Gu'erard's elegant spa here in Eug'enie-les-Bains where they find exquisite four-course meals, each containing less than 500 calories.
As economical as this formula is to the waistline, it bulges with profits. Gu'erard says he has helped make spas fashionable once again. His firm, ``Les Cha^ines Thermales de Soleil,'' accounts for 20 percent of the French spa business in its nine resorts, and he says it is considering expanding throughout Europe and even across the Atlantic.
Does such diversification interfere with dining pleasure? Critics complain that the great chefs spend too much time out of the kitchen. The reviewers at Gault and Millau, for example, downgraded Paul Bocuse's restaurant in Lyons this year because of his frequent absences.
Many younger chefs fear the profession is being lost to the lure of big business. ``Too many chefs are straying away from their art,'' says Martyn Pearn, a talented English chef at Bordeaux's highly-rated La R'eserve. ``I just want to concentrate on my own restaurant.''
But Gu'erard insists he can combine business with cuisine. To keep his ratings high -- the Michelin Guide gives him the supreme three stars and Gault and Millau the top ``super quatre toques'' rating -- he has decided to keep his restaurant open only six months a year. He spends the rest of his time on outside projects.
One of these is his frozen food line. After all, he says, ``We cannot cook just for the few who come here.''
Gu'erard says he is motivated by his desire to influence the way people eat and by the stimulus of profits. ``Creating something new is the exciting thing,'' he says. ``That means taking risks like any other businessman.''
Gu'erard's gastronomic frozen food fits this formula, producing both high profits and high praise. Food editor Brillaut praises the superb taste of such frozen creations as ``mousseline chaude de saumon fum'e sauce `a l'endive'' -- a mousse cake topped by smoked salmon and covered by a cream sauce and ``savarin de poisson `a l'oc'ean'' -- a fish terrine in vermouth sauce, decorated with four crab legs. Both products are the biggest frozen food sellers for Findus, Gu'erard's manufacturer, according to th e company's marketing director, Christian Petit.
Encouraged by the praise, Gu'erard now is dreaming up yet another culinary revolution. He is seriously considering a gourmet fast-food restaurant.
``I'm fascinated by McDonalds,'' he says. ``You can do much more than just hamburgers with fast food.''