French chef Jean Imbert takes over the restaurant of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée – Robb Report

For three months last winter, chef Jean Imbert retired to his Breton cabin to re-read the great classics of French gastronomy that he had studied at the start of his career. He leaned over The art of French cuisine by Marie-Antoine Carême, the 19th-century chef who cooked for Napoleon I and dazzled the Parisian elite with his towering dessert centers, and The Culinary Guide by Auguste Escoffier, famous for having codified the system of kitchen brigades.

But he has also studied the contemporary recipes of chef Guillaume Gomez, who cooked for four presidents as executive chef at the Élysée Palace in France before being named gastronomy ambassador by President Emmanuel Macron last year. Imbert’s goal was simple, if hardly simple: “I wanted to understand, on a deeper level, what French cuisine is,” he says. “I tried to use that as a starting point for my thinking.”

A modern version of a classic Langouste en Bellevue, with a procession of jelly medallions on its back.

Boby Allin

The result is its new gastronomic destination, Jean Imbert at the Plaza Athénée, which ushered in a new chapter for the legendary five-star hotel, in the majestically chic 8th arrondissement of Paris, when it opened in January. Sparkling crystal chandeliers hang from a golden ceiling, softly illuminating the 20,000 gold leaves adorning the dining room walls and enveloping the space in an amber candlelight glow. In the center of the room, a 12 meter long table in Brèche marble evokes the long banquets of the royal court of Louis XIV; large vases made from the same take of towering domes of delicate pink hydrangeas.

Hotel Plaza Athenee

Monochromatic modernist decor has been replaced with opulent furnishings.

Boby Allin

Such opulence is a major departure from the restaurant’s former life under the legendary chef Alain Ducasse-the previous decor was modern and monochromatic, identifiable by its emblematic steel bell benches -which handed over the proverbial keys to Imbert last spring after 21 years at the head of the flagship restaurant. Some critics have blasted the decision to replace the titan of French gastronomy with Imbert, 40, as a political appointment designed to exploit his online popularity and famous friends: Imbert holds no Michelin stars but has 453,000 Instagram followers, and his diet is filled with shots of him posing with stars such as Dua Lipa, Matt Damon, Madonna, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Lenny Kravitz and Pharrell Williams, with whom he opened swanin Miami, and To sharein Saint-Tropez and Ibiza.

Hotel Plaza Athenee

Put the finishing touch on the vol-au-vent.

Boby Allin

And yet, Imbert’s dishes, some of which are based on centuries-old recipes, add an undeniable element of theatre. The turbot stuffed with watercress arrives whole, filleted by the waiters at the table. The vol-au-vent is served unstructured, a bare plate of dumplings, sweetbreads and truffles until the waiter ceremoniously coats it with a buckwheat puff pastry and long drizzles of accompanying sauces. After eight years of Ducasse’s Naturalité concept, which banned meat in favor of healthier fish, vegetables and grains, Imbert clearly isn’t counting calories (and has reintroduced meat to the menu).

Hotel Plaza Athenee

Turbot stuffed with watercress.

Boby Allin

But it all pales in comparison to the end of the meal. To signal the start of the dessert service, the restaurant manager rings a bell to attract everyone’s attention. The lights go out and a screen at the front of the room opens to reveal a row of pastry chefs, who put the finishing touches on desserts before serving guests.

Hotel Plaza Athenee

Mixed vegetables.

Boby Allin

“For me, in this historic palace in the heart of Paris, avenue Montaigne, I always had the idea of ​​telling the story of France and French heritage,” says Imbert, referring to the idea of ​​“planetary alignment” in all his projects. . But his true guiding force may be closer to home: his grandmother, Nicole, whom Imbert has often cited as an inspiration throughout his career. Four years ago, he booked the Plaza, still under Ducasse, to celebrate his 90th birthday with 30 family members; with her passing last year, Imbert won’t get the chance to reinvent a birthday party for “Mamie”, as he calls her, with the same restaurant now under his command.

“She wasn’t there when I took over the Plaza Athénée, but the first symbol I thought of was her and the party we had here with all my family,” he says. . “I like symbols and the meaning of things. So that made me happy.

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