Lean cuisine pioneer and three Michelin-starred chef Michel Guérard spills the beans on a career spent defying convention in the kitchen
How have attitudes towards healthy eating changed over the course of your career?
When I started, it was unthinkable… And I remember very clearly in the mid-1970s my good friend, Paul Bocuse, making fun of me, saying to his clients: “If you go to Guérard’s, take your medical prescription with you!” People started to change during the 1990s, when the epidemic of diabetes and obesity got the attention it deserved. Today, people sometimes go overboard with food intolerances. It doesn’t mean this work is over – on the contrary. Food and health is an upper-class thing. But the people who should be the most concerned are difficult to reach because of educational, cultural and financial discrepancies.
Did it take some convincing for the public to fully embrace lean cuisine?
People who have come to Les Prés d’Eugénie for several days and eaten our Health Cuisine have always felt so much better afterwards and admired the sort of magic that made them feel happy and their stomach full. They don’t need any more convincing once they’ve tried it.
Are there foods people shouldn’t eat and, conversely, foods they should be eating more of?
Everything is a balance. There is no forbidden food, or food that you should eat all the time. What you should eat as little of as possible is processed food like white bread.
What gets your back up about contemporary cuisine and the way it’s prepped or presented in high-end restaurants these days?
Pastry that’s not what it’s supposed to be. It only looks good and, most of the time, doesn’t taste like anything. This is the consequence of reality TV, smartphones and apps like Instagram. Aesthetics have become as important as taste, which is a pity. When you see all these people taking pictures of their food, they enjoy that maybe more than eating what’s on their plate.
What advice would you give amateur cooks looking to give lean cuisine a try?
It’s all about seasoning and sauces. Try our wonderfully healthy vinaigrettes or mayonnaise [featured] in Eat Well and Stay Slim. Don’t overcook meat or fish. Always let it rest covered for as long as you cooked it. Then it will always be tender and moist.
Is there an ingredient you can’t stand?
I’m not a huge fan of figs.
What is your péché mignon (weakness)?
I don’t have one as I love everything… but I cannot resist a slice of warm, flaky fruit tart.
You’ve had (and still have) an incredibly successful career in a tough industry. What is the secret to holding on to three Michelin stars for so long?
The most important thing is to stay out of trends in order to become your own classic.
What would your last supper be?
I’d like to be served something very new and surprising, but also obvious, making me think: “How did I not think about this one?”