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Three Stars for 40 Years: Andy Hayler talks to Michel Guérard

By Andy Hayler

To attain three Michelin stars is the ultimate dream for any chef. One of those who achieved it is Michel Guérard, whose restaurant Prés d’Eugénie south of Bordeaux retained its third star in the France Michelin Guide 2017. What is remarkable about this is the chef first gained the third star in 1977, and has managed to keep the accolade for an unbroken period of 40 years.

If you have the opportunity then I would encourage you to visit Guérard at his property in the little country village of Eugénie-les-Bains, and enjoy the glorious food at his establishment. It is my personal favorite restaurant in the world.

Born in March 1933, Guérard gives no thought to retiring. He is an icon of French cuisine, having been one of the key influencers of “nouvelle cuisine,” a lighter style of cooking than the traditional heavy cream sauces that were de 71 rigueur in fancy French restaurants at that time. An idea of how widespread his influence was can be gleaned from the fact that he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1976.

Can you summarize your approach or philosophy to cooking?

At Les Prés d’Eugénie we like to serve the produce as naturally as they can be: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. We feel we have a responsibility to pay tribute to the produce we cook and make sure a splendid duck didn’t die for nothing.

As you reflect on your distinguished career, is there anything significant that you would change if you could?

Not a thing! There have been some great successes and some failures that are part of the journey. But those episodes never hindered the path of the cuisine I wanted to create. The most important event of my life was meeting my wife. Together, we did things that we couldn’t have without each other.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

I’ve always had this dream of becoming a doctor. I ended up a chef but I never forgot my dream. At that time, talking about cuisine and health looked like forcing a square into a circle. But I made it work and I made it relevant. Another thing, obviously, is the celebration this year of our 40th anniversary of three Michelin stars. This is something exceptional.

Do you have a funny kitchen or restaurant story that you can share?

We’ve had presidents and politicians, celebrities, artists and writers, so a lot of funny things have happened within the kitchen. Tito, Yugoslavia’s dictator, spent a few days with us. He had his own food taster and everything had to go through him — literally! We once had a delightful princess whose beloved greyhound had disappeared. Everyone looked for it for two days. Thanks to local police reinforcements we ended up finding the dog next to the lobster aquarium, which he was watching intensely. He was apparently used to eating this sort of food.