A “restaurateur” is a person whose profession consists of managing and operating a culinary establishment open to the public, such as a restaurant, a bistro, a brasserie… France, the land of gastronomy, is teeming with restaurateurs, often great chefs themselves. Discover the great French restaurateurs of yesterday and today.
The chefs who have made France the land of gastronomy
Since the 17th century, France has seen its culinary practices gradually evolve to become the great country of gastronomy known around the world today. In the Middle Ages, spices were heavily used in every dish, but gradually gave way to more delicate herbs such as thyme and laurel. This was followed by the Italian influences of Catherine de Médicis, the refinement and cooking techniques developed at the court of Louis XIV, then the appearance of inns and finally the first Parisian restaurants in the 18th century. It’s all these aspects, century after century, that have shaped French cuisine. Discover the restaurateurs who, from the 18th century onwards, made France the land of gastronomy.
Born in 1783, Marie-Antoine Carême was the first restaurateur to be named the “king of chefs, and chef of kings”. More than that, he was the first to bear the title of “chef”. Born into a modest family, at the age of 8 he was hired as a kitchen boy by a Parisian cabaret owner. It was here that he developed his talents, eventually becoming an apprentice pastry chef in a large house on rue Vivienne. After making a name for himself with some of the great Parisian names of the time, such as Talleyrand, he opened his own pastry shop, which soon became famous throughout Paris for its “pièces montées” made with sugar, honey, nougat, meringues and marzipan. He is particularly renowned for having been one of the first to turn pastry into an art form, depicting monuments and pyramids.
In addition to patisserie, the man nicknamed Antonin Carême also tackled main courses in French-style services. He continued his career in the kitchens of such great names as Talleyrand, George IV, Tsar Alexander II and the banker de Rothschild. Posterity owes him the use of more seasonal fruits and vegetables and lighter sauces in French gastronomy.
If there’s one restaurateur who inspired the cuisine still served today in France’s top restaurants, it’s the great Auguste Escoffier. In particular, he is famous for having codified, modernized and professionalized gastronomy. In the kitchens of major hotels and establishments, he created the kitchen brigades that are still at work today. He wanted clean kitchens and chefs de parties, each with precise tasks. It was these changes that enabled French cuisine to become institutionalized.
On the dining room side, he was responsible for many dishes that remain famous to this day: Poire Belle Hélène, Peach Melba, Salade Eugénie, Crêpe Suzette… It was undoubtedly his experience in the army during the Franco-Prussian War that inspired him to develop discipline in the kitchen, as well as the art of cooking with leftovers. Moving between Paris, Cannes and Monte-Carlo, he took part in the development of luxury hotel cuisine with César Ritz. He was one of the pioneers of fixed-price menus and food non-waste. Towards the end of his life, he was the first chef to receive the Légion d’Honneur, and wrote the preface to the Larousse Gastronomique. His talents as a chef and writer helped to spread the fame of French cuisine around the world.
You could say that Fernand Point was born in the kitchen! His father ran a “bistrot de gare”, a much-lamented type of establishment where fine French cuisine was served at every station, and his mother was a cook. So, it was only natural that he should dedicate himself to French cuisine and gastronomy.
He was the first chef to be awarded the Michelin Guide’s famous 3 stars, and to welcome great names to his signature restaurant “La Pyramide” in Vienne, near Lyon. The owner of his own business, Fernand Point’s bonhomie and genuinely jovial personality popularized a style of chef that still features prominently in the media today. Legend has it that he drank a bottle of Champagne a day. France is beautiful!
More entrepreneur than chef, Alain Ducasse is still at the head of a global restaurant empire. Born on a farm, he grew up picking, fishing and hunting. He collected food and cooked it with his family. He went on to spend the rest of his life working his way up from chef to restaurant, earning 2 or 3 stars along the way.
Here, we present 5 of the most emblematic French restaurateurs. But there are, of course, many others who, each in their own way, have represented French gastronomy with dignity: Bernard Loiseau, André Pic, Maïté, the Troisgros brothers, Antoine Beauvilliers, Eugénie Brazier…
Today’s trendy chefs in France
Today, the professions of chef and restaurateur are often associated. The ambition of chefs is often to make a name for themselves and run their own restaurant, or even several restaurants. The new generation is very promising, with an emphasis on French women who excel internationally.
Chef and Master Restaurateur (a title awarded by the French government), Anne-Sophie Pic boasts 10 Michelin stars for her 6 restaurants. She comes from the Pic family, famous in France for its long line of renowned chefs.
A leading French figure, Guy Savoy cut his teeth with the greatest chefs of the previous generation, such as Bernard Loiseau and the Troisgros brothers. He is famous for his many reputable bistros, his dubbing in the famous film Ratatouille and, above all, his third Michelin star.
Hélène Darroze may only have two Michelin stars in France, but she does have 3 Michelin stars for one of her restaurants in the UK. She worked under Alain Ducasse at one of his restaurants, the Louis XV, and made a name for herself as a judge on the famous cooking show Top Chef.
Initially a paratrooper for several years, Thierry Marx successfully turned to the restaurant business in the second half of his career, after joining the Compagnons du devoir and being noticed by renowned restaurateurs such as Joël Robuchon. Thierry Marx is best known for his mastery of molecular cuisine. Today, he owns a bakery franchise and runs a dozen cookery schools.
A true pastry prodigy, in 2023 Nina Métayer was voted “World’s Best Pastry Chef” at just 34 years of age. Despite her young age, the chef has already worked for top establishments such as Le Meurice and Café Pouchkine.
Voted “France’s favorite chef” several times, Cyril Lignac has made a name for himself on numerous TV cooking programs. He is particularly famous for his signature phrase “gourmand et croquant” (“crunchy and delicious”). Cyril Lignac owns several restaurants and patisseries in Paris, where he continues to alternate between chef and media host.
As with the emblematic restaurateurs, we have limited ourselves here to a few big names. There are dozens more chefs who represent the revival of French gastronomy: Eric Frechon, Olivier Roellinger, Philippe Etchebest, Stéphanie Le Quellec, Alain Passard…