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THE FATHER of nouvelle cuisine, Fernand Point located his restaurant in the town of Vienne, 20 miles south of Lyon, about halfway between Paris and the Riviera. One of the notable features of Vienne is a pyramid dating from Roman times, and this is the name he and his father gave the establishment, Restaurant de la Pyramide.
The year was 1923; Point was 25 and came from a line of talented cuisiniers. However, rather than routinely following the grand cuisine of the legendary Auguste Escoffier, he chose to let simplicity and the goodness of ingredients guide his improvisations.
Restaurant de la Pyramide F. Point became known for its innovative yet elegant approach to dining; Point was a mentor to others practicing what came to be called nouvelle cuisine. Among his culinary offspring are Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel, both highly regarded and, like Point, both with restaurants honored through the rarity of three Michelin stars.
Point documented his thoughts on using fresh ingredients of the highest quality in a straightforward manner. In time, this evolved into a wonderful book, Ma Gastronomie A Classic of French Cuisine, available in English as well as the original French.
The book includes a history of the restaurant and F. Point, his collection of musings, Grand Menus from special occasions, a description of the wine cellars, a glossary of techniques and an even 100 pages of recipes.
My last visit to La Pyramide was in the spring of 1992. I stayed at the hotel and enjoyed a dinner and breakfast. The beauty of both was in La Pyramide’s gentle art of dining. A lovely room, attentive—but not overbearing—staff, and wonderful cuisine. I remember being treated not as some American tourist, but rather as a welcomed guest having a neat dining experience.
My dinner began in the Salon Bar with a selection of appetizers, each a miniature work of art. The meal started with small rounds of Lotte (Monkfish, and a real favorite of mine) smoked over Canadian Maple and served with a swipe of mild curry. Next came little rollups of sole and whiting in a champagne sauce, again only a wisp. The main course was breast of duck roasted with golden delicious apples, les pommes “Reines du Pilat.” Then arrived a selection of cheeses, a miniature spring sorbet, Javanese bananas trimmed in chocolate (great!), a selection of tiny petit fours and, as a final treat, a little chocolate pyramid.
By the way, the diminutives—miniature, little, tiny and the like—characterize the concept of nouvelle cuisine. They also explain the variety of artful presentations that can comprise a single meal.
At another table, a local family was evidently enjoying a birthday dinner. It was interesting to see the youngsters studying the Menu Jeune Convive Gourmand (the kids’ menu), the waiter offering advice completely without condescension. I imagine Fernand Point would be pleased with this. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012
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