Frontlines

The great Paris food-fight

Marci McDonald October 30 1978
Frontlines

The great Paris food-fight

Marci McDonald October 30 1978

The great Paris food-fight

Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe?, intones the ominous title of Montreal director Ted Kotcheff’s current screen caper, a comic culinary whodunit served up with liberal helpings of gourmandism and gore. If the inspiration for the plot was purely fictional— based on a novel in which the world’s top cooks keep coming to sinister ends in their saucepots and pastry ovens— real life is now dishing out an ironic twist. As the film plays Canadian theatres this month, the great chefs of Europe are alive and well and thriving on a new diet which seems to consist of stabbing each other in the back.

The scene of the crimes is Paris’ tony Place de la Madeleine which—sprinkled with the world’s most deluxe delicatessens—had stood as a tranquil gourmet oasis until the small hours before dawn last Dec. 19 when a bomb shattered the gastronomic shrine of Fauchon, sending a fortune of fresh Christmas caviar, foie

gras and fine spirits up in flames. “It was a catastrophe,” says Fauchon’s natty proprietor, Edmond Bory, who still cannot estimate the full extent of his losses. By Nov. 16, when he throws open the final phase of repairs with a champagne celebration, the cost of refurbishment will have topped $2 million, but it is not the cost alone which has left a bitter taste in his mouth.

As workmen were still sifting through the rubble, Bory received a number of visits from French food critic Claude Jolly, who writes in the weekly L'Express under a pseudonym, wanting to discuss the secret ingredients Bory deemed essential for marketing a range of specialties from the country’s most celebrated three-star chefs. Thinking that a joint venture was being concocted, “I opened up all my expertise to him frankly,” he says. Last month, still embroiled in his own half-completed repairs, Bory watched in astonishment as Jolly supervised the opening of a sleek burgundy and mirrored gourmet boutique kitty-corner to Fauchon, featuring the preserved and fast-frozen dishes of cuisine minceur king, chef Michel Guérard. “If they had done it in normal time, fine,” he sputters. “But to profit from this bomb—to take advantage of this bad luck of ours and open right on our doorstep—that’s what I call a kitchen knife in the back of Fauchon.”

Not one to take the flinging of the

gastronomic gauntlet lightly, Bory has struck back, thickening the plot. Within days of Guérard’s inauguration, he larded his shop windows with a lavish range of delicacies from the kitchens of Guérard’s closest friends and confreres of nouvelle cuisine, most notable among them Paul Bocuse, the “lion of Lyons,” whose portrait dominates the display like an altarpiece. Once the leader of the merry rebel band of nouveaux cuisiniers who have revolutionized French cooking over the past decade (Maclean's, Sept. 19,1977), Bocuse has lately taken to sniping at Guérard’s success in public and seems to have timed the unveiling of his own line of gourmet goods to coincide with Guérard’s launching in a move that could hardly be called accidental. Guérard has privately expressed hurt at Bocuse’s pungent salvos, but has chosen to keep a stiff public upper lip about the latest escalation in the culinary war, as Fauchon ships in daily supplies of new dishes from his companions of the toque: thrush mousse from the Troisgros brothers in Rouen, garlic purée from Roger Verge of the Moulin de Mougins near Cannes and smoked salmon with sea salt from his former master Jean Delaveyne of the Camelia Restaurant at Bougival on the outskirts of Paris.

Bory claims 15 other French chefs are in the process of devising platters for him and relishes the sight of crowds clogging the traffic on the Place de la Madeleine as they line up five deep to smack their lips outside his windows. “Competition?” he sniffs now, somewhat more calmly. “I don’t regard Michel Guérard as competition. The more quality shops there are on the Place de la Madeleine, the better it is for business.” Indeed, in the culinary crossfire, the one sure victor is indisputable—the French gourmand.

Marci McDonald