Bernard Loiseau

Tragic figure

Bernard Loiseau was a legendary figure. His way of cooking, especially his sauces, introduced a different way of approaching haute cuisine, but his suicide in 2003 abruptly ended his career

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Loiseau’s restaurant in Saulieu, however, still exists and is now run by his wife and his sous-chef, Patrick Bertron, who joined the brigade as early as 1982. As he has worked more than two decades under the master, he does not only understand the philosophy of Loiseau, but also produces very good renditions of the latter’s classics.

To describe Loiseau’s food and philosophy, one ought to leave the issue of the suicide on the side. It has been written about in great length, and whilst  it had a tremendous impact on gastronomy, there was more to the man than his untimely demise.

His most important creations speak for themselves, and explain his philosophy better than any critic could ever have done. What should be said however, is that when Loiseau started reducing stocks to make his jus, this didn’t go down well with his colleagues. Paul Bocuse for instanced proclaimed that the Saone was about to dry-out, with all the water that going into Loiseau’s sauces. Luckily enough, Loiseau was a fairly committed man, and stuck to his principles. Given his influence at that time, it is in part due to him that we see other sauces than creamed ones in Michelin-starred restaurants today.

This idea of making cuisine lighter was not novel, Michel Guérard was probably the first great chef to really develop a cuisine minceur as he put it. Whilst Loiseau never made such claims, his food was quite different from what was cooked in France back then. Take his frog’s legs with parsley and garlic. What might not look like much nowadays was a deconstructivist dish, well before Ferran Adria started formulating such ideas. Instead of pan-frying the frog’s legs with lots of butter, garlic and parsley, Loiseau took the individual elements of the dish and tried to purify the flavour and role: The frog’s legs were the centre-piece and are divinely crispy, with that moist, tender meat that makes them so delightful. With them comes a garlic puree, which requires the garlic to be brought to the boil several times, for it to loose its pungency. This is encircled with a light, parsley coulis, thus making excessive use of butter unnecessary in this dish. Therein lies the dish’s genius and significance: Taking a well-known combination and breaking it up into components. Whilst it might not have been the first dish to be constructed in this way, it was certainly a significant one in changing chefs’ minds.

With the newer dishes, things are less interesting, and frankly speaking, more hit and miss. Whilst the food never disappoints here, it is difficult to find really exciting dishes – unless you go for those from the carte.

A carpaccio of prawns for instance is tasty, but lacks the element that make it special. It feels a bit too safe and not quite convincing enough for it to warrant 3*. The same is the case with a veal dish. Served with the sweetbreads and a hearty sauce, the dish is tasty, but also lacks the spark that makes a plate of food memorable.

That is the issue the restaurant Bernard Loiseau today: It is a place that has had an illustrious past and still manages to serve delicious food. The failure to produce consistently good new dishes makes it all the more difficult to really get excited about these.

Bernard Loiseau

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