Back to the Future | Yannick Alléno

29 Mar 2019
5 min read
Yannick Alléno has made culinary headlines for decades with his constant ability to create award-winning cuisine using produce from the local terroir. FOUR finds out how the charismatic chef manages this fine-dining feat in the heart of the French Alps.

“I wanted to become a chef as early as eight years old. I think God put his finger on my head and said, ‘This guy will be a chef.’ After realising that this is what I wanted to do, I would look to famous chefs and get inspired by their work. But, I think, it was after I saw Jacques Maximin, who was driving a Porsche, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow – if a chef gets to drive a Porsche, then I definitely want to become one!’

“I am always very afraid of what people think about my food, which has made me try and be very creative with what I make. I work very hard to find something different to go beyond people’s expectations.”

“For me, to think that people wouldn’t have a good time or enjoy my restaurant makes me try to really to find a new way of presenting or creating things. As a chef, the more you work, then more you have the facility to make new dishes and come up with new concepts.”

“In terms of French cuisine, it’s very important to understand the importance of sauces. I have actually created a YouTube video demonstrating some classic sauce techniques because it really is an essential part of understanding the French cooking philosophy.”

“It’s also an essential part and reflection of my own philosophy. For example, I work on extraction, which means cooking every single element one by one and at their individual optimum temperature. I found a way to reduce without heat. So, right now, I reduce it by freezing and then I take out the liquid, after which I blend my liquids to make a Grand Sauce. If you want to talk about French Cuisine, you have to talk about French sauces.”

“At Le 1947 at the Cheval Blanc Courcheval, terroir is very important and naturally dictates a huge part about what we produce and cook with. Being at such altitudes and extremes in weather means that I just can’t create the same dishes in the mountains as I can do in Paris. So we try to work with the land as much as possible and adapt by techniques such as preservation, in order to keep dishes interesting all year round.”

“In summer and spring we collect plants and other foraged items to process them via fermentation, extraction or other methods, such as confit, to preserve as much as possible”

“However, what’s great about the region is that, when in season, it’s rich in terms of produce like local beef, chicken, vegetables. And this is great because when you eat the preserved food at a later date, you can really taste the seasons. For example, during the winter months we use preserved tobacco leaves to add flavour to dishes, and this really adds such a special touch.”

“But this is not an entirely new concept to me. Even since 2006 I have been promoting the idea of conservation, preservation and respecting the local terroir, including in my Paris restaurant.”

“Naturally, when you work so closely with the seasons and the land, it means that the dishes are always evolving. This is something I enjoy, but it means that we don’t have signature dishes. A lot of work goes into the menu, which includes six starters, four main dishes and five deserts, but even this changes slightly every year. There is also a tasting menu and a variety of amuse-bouches to accompany the dining experience. Returning customers that come to eat at the restaurant will not find the same dishes as before.”

“The restaurant however has remained quite similar to when it first opened. Apart from updating and maintenance, the actual interior remains quite unchanged, because when you look at it it really does look like something quite new and contemporary. When we designed it we wanted it to have a lot of energy and be a special place. For me, it is a piece of art in itself.”

“In terms of ambience, I would say that we want to channel Back to the Future! We want people to feel like they have really travelled somewhere else during the culinary experience. We try to bring guests something that is really out of this world.”

“Right now, for winter, we are working on a new version of a sweetbread dish, but with a new texture, which has been braised in anise syrup and served with truffle – it will be something very crazy. I have also worked on creating a dish of gravlax, but with cucumber. It’s fantastic and I’m very excited, but you will have to wait and see.”

“The restaurant really has a remarkable energy, and I think this element has been a huge factor in the success of the restaurant. Naturally, a motivated team, the atmosphere and the location also play a big part. We are very proud that we were one of the first three-Michelin starred-restaurants in the mountains because it brings such incredible stories, too. You know, it has become a destination in its own right, and people will travel from Russia, Asia and further just to try our food. It’s crazy but such an incredible

“First of all, the people who want to start a restaurant or the motivations behind it have changed a lot. Gastronomy is at an all-time high, but that means that it’s competitive and people set out to try and be the best of the best.”

“Now, everything has to be an experience. I recently had a guest coming all the way from Taiwan just to have dinner with us. He came all the way, taking two planes and a number of buses and trains, and then didn’t even stay longer than one night. This is completely new to the current time we are living. People are crazy about food, and it’s so much more accessible than ever before. People see something new on social media and just flock to it. It really is both an interesting and crazy phenomena.”

“The natural repercussion of this, however, is that you have to be continuously creative and show them something new every time. It’s a very high-pressure job as it is, so to add the extra pressure of expectative guests is quite demanding.”

“I am also worried about the young chefs that buy old restaurants. The cost of maintaining the restaurant for a small team is incredibly high and I’m not sure how sustainable it is for them. In our case, we have 90 or 100 people working there, so it’s very powerful outfit and you have the space to create. It can also make money, which means that you can increase your quality and deliver a larger message to diners and the outside world. The ideas you create can expand at a great pace, whereas when you are small it can be very tough.”

“On the other hand, I don’t think the quality of food has ever been so high in terms of creativity, knowledge, respect for terroir and such. These are all very positive aspects for both guest and the gastronomic world.”

“The current gastronomic scene makes me very positive and comfortable about the future of fine dining. I love fine dining, and I really think that it’s certainly not dead.”


Photography: Jean-Christophe, Studio Bergoend & Phillipe Vaurès