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Restaurant Alain Chapel

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Anyone interested in the 20th-century glories of French restaurant cuisine or had the good fortune to visit the village of Mionnay on the outskirts of Lyon at a certain moment will be upset by the end of Restaurant Alain Chapel. A good part of the restaurant died when Chapel did at age 53 in the summer of 1990, and the restaurnt declined immediately thereafter. Still, as one who spent a part of 25 years criss-crossing France visiting the great and interesting restaurants of France, I can easily say that not a single one of them quite affected me and my wife the way this restaurant did. Each time we were there (and I lost track of how many, but I'd say a few dozen, many of which involved an overnight stay to have two or three meals in a row), we would tell ourselves that we were eating better than anyone else in the world at that moment. In retrospect, the only other restaurants that on a given day were comparable were Michel Geurard in Eugenie-les-Bains, Freddy Girardet outside of Lausanne, the Freres Troisgros when Jean Troisgros was still alive, and the young and energetic Michel Bras when he was located in the village of Laguiole when he had two Michelin stars.


As these great chefs used to do, they stopped at nothing to be at the service of their clientele. Chapel, however, always did this one better than anyone else. While it was expensive to partake, you received perfection and unmatched generosity in return. The abundent menu with seven or eight appetizers, four or five fish dishes, seven or eight main course meat dishes, a "plateau de fromages" with a few dozen cheeses to choose from (I made sure to stop at seven so as not to appear piggish, but if I wanted to, I could have all of them) and for a while a cart loaded with cakes, pies, stewed fruits, eight or so ice creams and sorbets served from sterling silver miniature milk cans, chocolate and other mousses, etc. The "free food" that came with aperitifs were the equivalent of a whole appetizer course. I remember even that the maitre d'hotel overheard that one of my friends was celebrating a birthday and when dessert time came, out came a chocolate cake (a real "gift from the chef".) Every dish was made with impeccable produce, much of it from the overly-abundant Departments of the Ain and Rhone-Alps. The portions were often enormous with poultry and fish served whole, so it was better to have lunch there and not have to worry about dinner.As good as anything about the restaurant, Chapel was vehemently against tasting menu, which were just starting to become a phenomenon, and sous-vide barely existed. (No doubt that Chapel would be vehemently against that as well). Furthermore, he had the best service team in the world. Watching it go about their work, especially carving a chicken or duck or filleting a fish, was an engaging distraction in itself, and each member made us feel that they were serving us and no one else.


I noticed last night that Restaurant Troisgros has put on its a la carte menu as a tribute and souvenir Chapel's Oreille de Veau Farcie, a fried calf's ear filled with truffles and sweetbreads. Of all the great Chapel dishes I recall, this one is one of most memorable, explosive in its way. I plan to have it next month for a big birthday; and if it's a faithful recreation, then you should go there, too. I'll let you know what happens.

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I had some of the best meals of my life there, the last only a couple of weeks before he died.

I particularly remember a salad of lobster, pigeon and black truffles,

and his poulet de bresse en vessie with a foie gras sauce.

He was, I agree, on the same level as Fredy Girardet and Robuchon.


His book is quite good too; the introduction especially.

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