Le Pavillon Ledoyen is more than a 3-star Michelin Paris restaurant; it's a historical figure. As much as an inanimate object – namely, a building – can play a role in history, this one has.
When it first opened in 1779, it did so as a humble auberge, where the working populace gathered for a drink and amusement. That was back when Place de la Concorde was still called Place Louis XV.
By 1791 – when the owner of the building leased it to Antoine Nicolas Doyen – it was on its way to being called Ledoyen and then Pavillon Ledoyen. But before that, it had an incarnation as Au Dauphin. (The name Dauphin was a symbolic one for those revolutionary times, attributed, as legend has it, to the frequenting of this establishment by both Robespierre and Napoléon Bonaparte.)
Pavillon Ledoyen, a Paris restaurant with a past — Photo courtesy of Paige Donner
Fast-forward to summer 2014 when Chef Yannick Alléno, following his departure from Le Meurice, bought the restaurant and the landmark building it's housed in.
“It was not I who chose the restaurant. The restaurant chose me,” he says.
To understand why this makes perfect sense, it's worth a closer look at just who this young, dynamic, 3 Michelin-starred French chef is.
A couple years ago, one of the French newspapers declared that this chef was undertaking nothing short of a French culinary revolution. The more accurate description is that this French chef is passionately engaged in a French culinary evolution. And for that, Pavillon Ledoyen is the perfect home.
Rooted deep in the country's history and perching elegantly, but demurely like a jewel on the Champs-Elysées, this historically classified building is the most fitting foundation from which Alléno can present what he calls the essential essence of French cuisine.
Chef Yannick Alléno in front of his 3-star Michelin restaurant Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris — Photo courtesy of Geoffroy de Boismenu / Pavillon Ledoyen
“Sauce is the verb of French cuisine," says Alléno.
But when Chef Alléno speaks of French sauces, it's important to clarify immediately that this chef is speaking of the next generation of French sauces. Gone from his kitchens (if they were ever there to begin with) are heavy sauces full of cream, salt, fat and flour.
In fact, in many respects, what we often equate with French sauces are the antithesis to what Alléno is speaking of when he begins his dialogue about La Sauce.
Instead, what this chef means by sauce is a creation from the extracted essence of an eggplant, mussels, a turnip, green apple, onions or ham. Using a method of cryoconcentration – after heating the raw ingredient to just the perfect temperature using a pressure cooker – the chef is able to entice the most flavorful elements of aforesaid ingredients.
He then isolates them (rather than simmers them all together), and with the precision of the finest wine and cognac makers, he blends these extracted elements with their heightened flavor together, to arrive at . . . voilà: the perfect sauce.
"The sauces I make using these methods are so crystalline, so pure. Like a fine Meursault that hints of its mineral origins, my sauces are flavor purity blended with exquisite precision," says Alléno. "With my sauces, I am building upon the best of what is French and making it even better."
A revolution in French cuisine it is not. But it is a kind of renaissance, an evolution.
And one could say that this dynamic French talent – ensconced now in his classified historical monument Pavillon Ledoyen on the Champs-Elysées – is perfectly positioned to launch into the essence of full culinary flight.