Whatever your opinion about the reliability of the Michelin Red Guide, winning a third star is still the most heart-thumping accolade any French chef can receive. In the 2012 edition, only one chef copped the three-star laurels for the first time—Emmanuel Renaut of the Flocons de Sel restaurant in Megève, in the Haute- Savoie. On the basis of a superb afternoon-long Saturday lunch there a few weeks back, he richly deserves the honor.
Renaut’s food is so good, in fact, that it really is “worth the trip,” as the Michelin puts it. No one needs an excuse to go to delightful Megève, and whatever the season, a weekend at Renaut’s charming hotel-restaurant on the outskirts of town is a special occasion. From the moment we arrived I loved the friendliness of the place, and the absence of the formality too often found at two-star restaurants and Relais & Châteaux hotels. On a snowy afternoon, the raw wood paneled dining room—with its cathedral ceiling and collection of cuckoo clocks—was buzzing with other people who’d booked weeks in advance, as we had.
I was aware of Renaut’s impressive background: He trained with chef Christian Constant during that chef’s reign at the Crillon in Paris, then worked as sous-chef to Marc Veyrat for seven years and finally ran the kitchen at Claridge’s in London before opening Flocons de Sel. So I came to the table with high expectations, and from the moment my first dish arrived I knew it would be a spectacular meal. My all-vegetable millefeuille—fine layers of potato, leek, celeriac, carrot, kale and toasted chestnut shavings interleaved with duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms) was elegantly intricate in appearance, but light and refreshing, with the distinct tastes of the individual vegetables.
Chopped crayfish from Lake Geneva were served atop a delicate custard flavored by their cooking juices, with a garnish of rich crayfish jus and baby turnip stems marinated in Campari—the bitter aperitif sending fascinating small bolts of flavor through the otherwise tone-on-tone composition. Another brilliant example of Renaut’s witty gastronomic punctuation followed—a main course of veal sweetbreads with a sauce of their cooking juices and Angostura bitters, garnished with shallot puree, wild mushrooms and a rich, cheesy gratin Savoyard.
Because it achieves a remarkable equilibrium between Savoyard rusticity and the sophistication of big city kitchens, I could very happily eat Emmanuel Renaut’s cooking every day; in my book that makes him unique among France’s three-star chefs.
1775 route de Leutaz, Megève, 04.50.21.49.99. €150. www.floconsdesel.com
For lower altitude prices but a great sampler of Renaut’s cooking, try Flocons Village, his excellent bistrot in the center of Megève.
75 rue Saint François, 04.50.78.35.01. €35
Prices are approximate, per person without wine.
Alexander Lobrano’s book Hungry for Paris is published by Random House. www.hungryforparis.com.
Find Hungry for Paris and more in the France Today Bookstore.
Originally published in the April 2012 issue of France Today; updated in November 2012