On the Quai de Conti, across from the Pont Neuf, stands a neoclassical edifice from pre-revolutionary Paris. Boasting one of the longest façades on the Seine, it encloses a large inner courtyard and houses the world’s oldest still-operating mint, and Guy Savoy.
A humble rugby man from Bourgoin-Jallieu in Isere, where he is still directing partner of the rugby club, he bears a resemblance to the painter Nicolas Poussin, a tall-browed, strong-featured face. And in addition to his satellite establishments in the city, this 65-year-old has a Global footprint. Beginning at “La Barrière de Clichy” entrusted to him by Claude Vergé at the rue Troyon, by way of Dubaï to Las Vegas, where his children Frank and Laura run his restaurant at Caesars Palace since 2006. He’s a man, in love with African Art, whose sole ambition is to treat us to a delicious meal.
In a PUF university publication from 2007 titled “A Psychoanalyst at Guy Savoy’s, “ François Ladame doesn’t hold back: “The restaurant creates the last refuge of hyper-civilization in the world. The creator practices sublimation through his effusive love of perfection and his fascination with transformation.” It sounds like the realm of a magician, but as every party-trick amateur will tell you, a lot of work goes into a sleight of hand.
Let’s start with the place, this “last refuge of hyper-civilization.” Guy Savoy occupies the former apartments of the governor of the mint, in other words the state’s chief moneymaker, which seems fitting, given the prices. The space has been completely redone to sleek contemporary. Walls are almost black, tall windows afford a commanding view of the Seine and the oxblood ceiling is lacquered so that it reflects the lights of the Bateaux Mouches passing on the river at night. This may seem a fanciful idea until you experience the play of light animating the rooms and sparking an exhilarating sense of place: you’re in the luxurious heart of Paris, old, wise and vibrant -- hushed perfection. It does feel like a refuge, and hyper-civilized.
“The creator practices sublimation…” our gushing psychoanalyst further writes. The word comes from Latin. Its original meaning is “raised to a higher status.” Sublimation is when a solid turns into a gas without first becoming a liquid. Snow turning into fog without melting is an example. At Guy Savoy the word means transforming raw materials into something sublime. How does he do it? Obsessive product sourcing from the best growers and artisans, and a willingness to take things further than anyone else would. He is fascinated with transformations, and pursues perfection with dogged determination, regardless of the effort it takes. His influences are the result of his history, the classic French cuisine of his childhood, the revelations he had working at Troisgros. There is a holistic approach to everyone and everything involved. At 65, he is at the top of his art, which consists in his own words of “transforming, in real time, matter into joy.” (From a speech to the Academy of Political Science in 1999.)
How did he get there? Decades in the kitchen - sample, select, prepare, taste, repeat, until every movement and technical skill is second nature. Trained by Alain Chapel at la Dombes de Mionnay, Louis Outhiers at La Napoule, this holder of the Legion of Honor, bestowed to him by Jean Glavany en 2000, in turn trained Gordon Ramsay and Richard Ekkebus. He belongs to the new generation of French cooks that sprang from the traditional schools (Troigros, Bocuse, Guérard…). His fans follow him down unbeaten paths and describe the joy of surprise as addictive. The chef creates with the playfulness of a child, sees his craft as the eternal search for pleasures both entirely new and from the past, pursuing this goal with almost tyrannical zeal. He watches over the harmony of his teams in the dining rooms and the kitchen. He introduces a working order that thrives on communication, where everyone is attuned to his sensitivities and optimistic drive. And so none of his relevance and vitality is lost. The old mint on the Seine still produces treasure, and Guy Savoy rightfully occupies the governor’s apartments.
Restaurant Guy Savoy
Monnaie de Paris
11, quai de Conti