Society

The Secret Ingredients That Make Taillevent The Ultimate French Restaurant

This classic Paris address, which inspired the movie Ratatouille, is even more fancy -- and delicious -- in real life.

"Tasty and elevating" cuisine
"Tasty and elevating" cuisine
Emmanuel Tresmontant

PARIS – It is the only restaurant where French singer Serge expand=1] Gainsbourg actually agreed to wear a tie -- even if the knot was loosely tied down the middle of his chest.

Today, you don’t need a tie to get a table, but a jacket is mandatory, even for Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. When Vladimir Putin was invited to lunch late last year by former French Prime Minister François Fillon, he asked to eat in a “typical French restaurant.” He was naturally taken to Taillevent, where he had a fillet of sole with a side of cauliflower mousseline (a light puree) and drank a Coche-Dury Meursault wine from Burgundy.

Taillevent embodies the famous French service – an endangered species. This is the restaurant that inspired the movie Ratatouille. Pixar’s scriptwriters reproduced the restaurant in all its details, going as far to ask Jean-Marie Ancher – the restaurant’s director since 1975 – to lend his voice. With his French accent of course!

The restaurant is located in the former Parisian town house of the Duke of Morny, Napoleon III’s half-brother, near the Champs Elysees. Along with Lasserre, La Tour d’Argent, Laurent and Ledoyen, Taillevent is one of the last authentic “restaurateur houses.” You don’t come here for the chef, who is just one of the many players, but for the whole gastronomy experience: the service, the decor, the atmosphere and the art of being a good host, which needs to be refined and subtle, something that makes eating in a restaurant a pleasure and not an ordeal. The ballet of the restaurant’s swallow-tailed waiters is quite a sight.

“Over the last 20 years, the art of service has almost disappeared in most restaurants,” explains Jean-Marie Ancher.

“It’s hard to find qualified staff and the chefs want to control their dishes from A to Z," Ancher continues. "Up on their pedestal, they have taken away from the maitres d’, what used to be part of their job: carving the poultry, preparing the sauces, flambeing the crepes suzette, setting the plates, decanting the wine, presenting the cheese cart… Everything that made a restaurant into a theatrical performance.”

Dexterity and skill for a carefully choreographed spectacle

To carve poultry in front of the client requires experience, practice on dozens of ducks, chicks and other birds. “The trick,” says Franck Bruneau, a new recruit from Lasserre, “is to find the nerve at the juncture of the thigh and to elegantly sever it, without any bits flying out. Flambeing a crepe suzette is also a ritual that requires dexterity. You need to pour exactly the right amounts of cognac, Grand Marnier, orange juice and melted butter while keeping the flame under control… an accident can happen very quickly!”

Taillevent’s 23 waiters and 18 cooks perform a new show every day, sticking to a precise script, but where there is still a little room for improvisation. According to Alain Soliveres, the kitchen head, few restaurants are able to pull off such a performance: “there needs to be a complete trust between the dining room and the kitchen staff. There can be no cheating: we show the products as they are, in their original beauty, like the semi-wild duck roasted in spices or the blue lobster in a pastry-sealed casserole dish.”

The cuisine of this discreet chef from the Languedoc region in southwest France, is a “cook’s cuisine,” tasty and elevating, deceptively classic. Alain Soliveres is ever present. He keeps an eye on every dish and doesn’t just wipe a quick dishcloth on the rim of the plate. “I like strong flavors, spit-roasted meat, braising, frying, game meat, morel mushrooms, asparagus...”

Taillevent is also known for its love of wine. Andre Vrinat, who founded the restaurant in 1946 and his son Jean-Claude (who died in 2008) were the first restaurateurs in Paris to offer other wine regions than the classics from Bordeaux – notably wines from Burgundy. It has about 3,000 different wines in its cellar, under the responsibility of two passionate sommeliers: Pierre Berot and Stephane Jan.

Aside from the most prestigious wines – Chateau Latour, Patrus, Romanae-Conti – and the impossible to obtain –Coche-Dury, Raveneau, Grange des Peres – you can also find less known wines, which are sure to become tomorrow’s favorites, like the Domaine Guiberteau, Maxime Graillot, Cecile Tremblay or Jo Sergi.

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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