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Hospitality Leadership Lessons in French GastronomyThe Story of Guy and Franck Savoy
By Thomas A. Maier
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Dr. Thomas A. Maier
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeadership and heritage
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The eloquent history
To celebrate leadership excellence in French gastronomy, the story begins with Guy Savoy and his son Franck. They discuss their origins, leadership philosophy, what influences them, and how they inspire those around them. To understand French gastronomy and hospitality leadership excellence is to examine the legacy and richness of French culture, her diverse provinces, and the integration of food and wine.
According to renowned French geography professor Jean-Robert Pitte, "Unique to France are micro-climates that are very diversified; integrating the Alpine, Mediterranean, and Atlantic agricultural components." He asserts that geography, among other factors, plays a significant role in enhancing the formation of culinary excellence and particularly the cultural heritage of French gastronomy. Franck Savoy echoes Jean-Robert Pitte's comments:
We are born with food on our minds. When we are dining in the evening, we are talking about where we are going to go for lunch and what we are going to eat the next day, and whom are we going to invite! Because of the territory, it is tradition. We like to eat and we like to live! We like to be with friends, so all of a sudden we are the best. There is a tradition of being together and eating together. Franck Savoy
To put into context the nexus of leadership and culture is to appreciate how the French view gastronomy and its importance to their heritage. Much to their pleasure and ours, French gastronomy has been declared a part of the world's heritage.
Global press publications announced at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization committee meeting in Nairobi that French food is a traditional cuisine among submissions from twenty-nine countries for the "intangible" heritage. The declaration decries "Gourmet meal of the French" as follows: "The choice of good products, mainly rural, the assembling of dishes and wines, the decoration of the table and the gestures of smelling and tasting what has been served on the table." Monsieur Pitte echoes the importance of such cultural and heritage declaration. He declares the importance of French gastronomy to the French people in the cafeterias, homes, and dining outlets to embrace the naturalness of French gastronomy and the diversity of terroir and products. More importantly, Pitte reminds us of the uniqueness of French gastronomy; he shares "the importance and uniqueness of French wine—French food pairing together, we are the only country with that fundamental strength."
Understanding Guy and his son Franck Savoy as contemporary leaders requires a look back in time to put their remarkable accomplishments into historical context. The French began to take their food seriously during the reign of Henry IV (1589-1610), and French cooking had undergone a remarkable change by the time of Louis XIV (1643-1715). This period saw the replacement of haphazardly cooked, highly spiced foods with simple dishes; light sauces made from natural cooking juices and carefully prepared soups in place of stockpot broth.
During this period, craft and merchant guilds grew in strength, bringing economic and legal control to most professions, including foodservice. Tying this rich cultural heritage to French history, the word restaurant, which means "restorative," was applied to certain bouillons consumed to restore strength after illness or physical exertion. An incident in 1765 changed this situation and marked the beginning of the modern restaurant in Europe. Further, evolution of the restaurant concept included focus on the food and cooking methodology, rather than the interior décor and ambience. Throughout the world, the modern restaurants of today enjoy centuries of innovation, modernization, and creative design in many facets derived from the French elegance and precision in gastronomy—linens, tableware, crystal glassware, custom show plates, floral arrangements, signature artwork, hi-tech lighting, and environmentally controlled air systems.
Much like those before him, Guy Savoy is careful to continue the rich French tradition of refined decor and restaurant ambience in all his locations. Whether they are located in Paris, Las Vegas, Doha, or Singapore, Jean-Michel Wilmotte has designed Guy Savoy's restaurants. They are artistic, elegant, chic, and amazingly comfortable, not to mention the critical importance of location.
We often hear about the importance of location in the retail industry, and the hospitality industry is no different. In terms of location, a great restaurant experience whether in product, pricing, or both is of no benefit if it is too far away from its intended market.
For Guy Savoy, his flagship Parisian restaurant is located a few blocks from the Arc de Triumph and the world's most beautiful boulevard Champs-Élysées. In America, Restaurant Guy Savoy is embedded in Caesars Palace Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. In Asia, Restaurant Guy Savoy is situated within the famed Marina Bay Sands Casino in Singapore.
In terms of location, a restaurant with a dramatic and unique theme may be able to draw its clientele from a far greater area than an ordinary restaurant operation. In the case of Guy Savoy, his restaurants have become well known globally because of his branding image. As a world-class cuisinier, Savoy has developed an international following for those who appreciate fine food and gastronomic experiences. Great restaurant locations seem destined for success due to other factors such as being adjacent to major tourist attractions. For Guy Savoy, the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Las Vegas strip in Nevada, and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, are all locations near major tourism attractions, though Guy Savoy and his name are clearly the destination. The three key elements in any restaurant's success are location, location, location. In this case, it is Savoy, Savoy, Savoy!
Restaurant Guy Savoy enterprises are highly contemporary, global businesses. Besides exceptional locations, they take into account superb design and thematic elements. The food and the uniqueness of the French culinary tradition lie in the details of recipes and consistency in product handling from the farmer to the plate. Many believe classic French cooking is the most influential and highly esteemed cuisine of the Western world. A broad, specialized vocabulary and a rich body of cooking literature support its formalized culinary style, which prizes subtlety, order, balance, and elegant presentation. As food items and cooking techniques were developed and mastered, they were described in meticulous detail and passed on, building a tradition of shared experience. The French standard and tradition is the benchmark of fine dining establishments today. International fine dining is entrenched in the historical contributions of French cooks. Their body of work has evolved over the years and elevated many dining operations from the way dishes are prepared to the way the many kitchens and dining rooms are organized to the way the culinary staff are trained.
The many great French chefs before him would be pleased with Guy Savoy's approach toward creating an elegant room and appreciating the importance of restaurant ambience. The importance of a luxury, fine dining restaurant is the theme and conceptual cohesion of the food, wine, service, and ambience.
I believe that cuisine, much as it cannot be understood without an understanding of the ingredients, cannot be appreciated without a convivial atmosphere. A well-filled plate is no longer enough. If you want people to have a good time, there need to be other parameters, from the decor and the atmosphere, to the people and the relationships they create. There is no magic formula. Alchemy is personal. Guy Savoy
Experts in the field of restaurant operations contend the theme is the central element in a restaurants concept. Although it is hard to describe with exact detail, the restaurant decor and ambience can be viewed as the collective integration of a number of elements that creates a unique and total dining experience. Restaurants with a unique ambience and focus on customer experiences give their guests the sense of comfort and contentment. Guy Savoy's theme is based on the interior designs of Jean-Michel Wilmotte. His decor reflects a classic style, dark wood, and leather, contemporary in look and feel. The ambience allows guests to focus on the food. In all his restaurants, Guy Savoy's passion for fine arts and sculpture is on display. He decorated his magnificent Paris restaurant like a museum with beautiful paintings of great contemporary artists, African sculptures, and tribal masks. A sampling of his personal art collection on display in the Paris Restaurant includes:
Provenance: Northern Cameroon, Kirdi period: early twentieth century This shield from Cameroon is one of the first African pieces acquired by Guy Savoy. The texture caught his eye in a Parisian gallery in 1933. He touched it, appreciated the look of it, and took the plunge.
Wooden sculpture from the Ivory Coast period: nineteenth century This bird is in flight, nose-diving like a wooden plane thrown by a delighted child. Guy Savoy placed it at the entrance to the restaurant and loves having it alongside him as he welcomes his guests.
Pottery from Mali Bambara period: late nineteenth century This large terracotta jar was buried three-quarters into the earth and was used to store wood. The striking difference between the part that was buried and the part that remained above ground appealed to Guy Savoy, a lover of all that comes from the earth.
A painted wood sculpture from Mopti, near the Niger valley period: early twentieth century.
Guy Savoy had never heard of the Bozo when he encountered this statue. Its exaggeratedly elongated forms and its delicate polychromy captivated him. As with all his favorite pieces, he asked Jean-Michel Wilmotte to design a special place for the statue and create just the right setting.
BRAM VAN VELDE
Guy Savoy bought these two works on the same day that he purchased the Alechinsky and in the same place—the Putnam collection. Whenever he looks at them, he feels their vitality. He mounted them in the restaurant and there they remain; "They live in the restaurant," as he so charmingly puts it.
Oil, charcoal, paper collage, and epoxy resin on canvas by Fabrice Hyber.
MATCH HEAD BUDDHA
An original sculpture by David Mach. An assemblage of redheaded matches: four versions made each in a different match head color. Is it possible to be serene when you could catch fire at any moment? Yes, replies David Mach, who created the Buddha head from matches! Fire lurks beneath the ice: perhaps the message of this impassive Buddha from his sovereign height of detachment. Under the spell of this mass, it is as imposing as it is delicate, Guy Savoy happily reorganized the layout of the restaurant's first dining room to offer the ideal place for what he calls "his" Buddha.
Cuisine is the art of instantaneously turning produce suffused with history into happiness. Guy Savoy
Meeting Guy Savoy in person is an inspiring opportunity to learn of his passion and skills as a leader. One cannot help but recognize his artistic talents. Surprisingly, during our interview, I mention to him his artistry and unique creative talent, and he decries, "I'm not an artist, but a craftsman." Most of all, his culinary team members believe he keeps competitive, creative, and innovative with ideas because:
He travels, he inspires himself of many other things, always searching how things happen elsewhere, finding new ideas, and all of a sudden ideas that are very creative. Team Paris
Through careful examination of the historical tradition in French gastronomy, Guy Savoy has good company in master craftsmanship that has preceded him. Numerous figures have made important contributions to the French culinary tradition. For instance, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) married a king in France. As such, she brought her personal chefs and they introduced foreign (particularly Italian) influences to French cooking. The highly educated and energetic Catherine had a taste for delicacies and refined dishes. She was credited with introducing the use of forks and napkins to French dining practices. Pierre François de La Varenne is noted for his cookbook Le Cuisinier Francais, published in 1651. It contained many of the superb sauces that characterize French cooking and taught future generations of chefs to appreciate the basic character of ingredients. This appreciation of ingredients is prominent in Guy Savoy's classic approach to his craft. Not only is it engrained in his style and execution, everyone on his team naturally appreciated the very same values. One of the classic chefs in France, Montagne is credited with publication of the venerable Larousse Gastronomique, the basic encyclopedia of French cooking, still being updated in revised editions today.
Early influences on French cuisine are said to have come from Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833). He was most known for his exceptional display decor and artistry. He was quoted as emphasizing the importance of fresh product, much like Guy Savoy today. Carême also followed suit with those before him as he embraced the kitchen brigade and organizational system.
The next gastronomic icon to emerge in French history was a mentee of Carême named Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). He was famous for simplifying the excesses of the previous century and brought a system of organization to everything he did. For instance, dinner menus listed courses in a clear and logical progression. In addition, Escoffier devised an efficient system of organization in the kitchen, the brigade system, which is still used in large upscale restaurants today.
Auguste Escoffier, Chef Supreme
Auguste Escoffier, who as a young boy yearned to be a sculptor, became one of the world's most famous chefs. He elevated the prestige of French cooking and restored dignity to the title of chef. In 1860, Escoffier got his first taste of the restaurant business when, at the age of twelve, he worked as a cook in his uncle's eatery, Le Restaurant Francais, in Nice, France. Though pushed into the restaurant business by his father and grandfather, Escoffier decided that if his destiny in life were to be a cook, he would make it his mission to restore honor to the title. At that time, in contrast to just a generation or so earlier, restaurant cooks were not held in high regard.
Early, and briefly in his career, Escoffier emulated the eighteenth century's most illustrious chef, Marie-Antoine Carême. Soon thereafter, he took on the task of modernizing and simplifying that Carême-style of cuisine. Reflecting the talent he had for cooking and the gift he had for organization, he felt that cuisine could still be artistically inspired yet executed scientifically. He created simple yet elegant dishes and served them with exquisite timing to maintain proper food temperature.
It was after 1883, when Escoffier met César Ritz (of Ritz Hotel fame), that his talent for organizing led him to develop the kitchen brigade, a system of organizing the restaurant kitchen that some restaurants still follow today. Escoffier created many new dishes among the most famous, Peach Melba, named in honor of the Australian opera star Nellie Melba who stayed at the Savoy. Among the most interesting, Jeanette, a stuffed chicken breast served atop a carved ice ship, to commemorate the ship Jeanette that had an unfortunate and fateful run-in with an iceberg.
Escoffier was awarded the French Foreign Legion of Honor in 1920 and honored as an officer of the legion in 1928. Escoffier retired in his mid-seventies, although he remained very active. He died in Monte Carlo in 1935.
Excerpted from Hospitality Leadership Lessons in French Gastronomy by Thomas A. Maier Copyright © 2012 by Dr. Thomas A. Maier. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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