On the menu of this special report are all the ingredients for a wickedly lively time : The foundations, today’s actions, the members’ vision and international development.
- A foundation built of values : Friendship and excellence
- Necessary turning points
- A shared vision
- Rich in our differences
A look back
May ‘54: Six major Parisian houses come together: Jean Barnagaud (Prunier), Raymond Oliver (Le Grand Véfour), René Lasserre, André Vrinat (Taillevent), Louis Vaudable de (Maxim’s)and Claude Terrail (whom Jean-Pierre Haeberlin referred to as “the magician of La Tour d’Argent”). Their aim: « To sustain and promote their high conception of French gastronomic traditions”.Very quickly, the provinces joined the ranks (Point in Vienne, Bise in Talloires, Thuillier in Baux-de-Provence, etc.)
1956: The first Guide released, listing 19 establishments. Originally known as “Grande Restauration”, the association takes on the name “Traditions and Quality”.
1957: The association welcomes its first foreign member, Marcel Kreusch (Villa Lorraine in Brussels).
1959: Dining at Le Grand Véfour, Jean Cocteau draws a Gallic rooster with a Phrygian bonnet on the tablecloth: the association’s emblem was born.
A closed club, open on the world
In the 1980s, Traditions et Qualité appeared as “the most closed and prestigious association of restaurants in the world. A few years later, a press release would reassure as to its readiness to be open: “When cooking is an art, it is always a pleasure to appreciate that of others, in the warm fellowship of those who appreciate good food”.(1988) At that time, the association was considered, in a sense, a club of food greats: a group of friends, brought together by « a certain conception of the quality of cuisine, ethics and work well done”.Already, the association was affirming its values: “safeguarding its independence and the bonds of fervent solidarity between its members”,going on to be named “Les Grandes Tables du Monde” in 1990.
The meaning of membership
The association is not aimed at directly assisting its member restaurants in developing their clientele. In becoming members, establishments that were already some of the greatest of their kind on the planet, added to their overall prestige.In the 1990s, the criteria included, beyond the cuisine itself, a number of requirements linked to the art of living: « The quality of the food, the service, the atmosphere. Judgement is based on the decoration, the style of the establishment and also the site”. The establishments were expected furthermore to have been in business for 5 years and have gained“the highest Michelin distinctions or equivalent ratings by other guides”, and admission was not final.
Today, the criteria have changed little and remain extremely selective: three years in operation, peer recognition as expressed through the referral of three members, and two Michelin stars, barring exceptions. The majority of members are owner managers. When salaried chef seeks membership, the association ascertains the chef’s commitment, stability and steadiness. As to the cuisine itself, David Sinapian feels that “Michelin remains the most reliable guide on the market, and can be trusted when it pronounces a chef’s work to be of high quality — leaving us free to focus on the customer experience, which we see as crucial.”
1995: 85 members
2014: 154 members
2018: 15 applications received to become part of the association, 13 accepted.
2019: 181 member tables in 25 countries across 5 continents. 30 applications received for 2020.
Gala dinners: on the menu
In 1961, Prunier served lobster in champagne sauce, roasted milk pigs and six different game bird dishes, with each table served one of the dishes prepared by six leading restaurateurs including Raymond Oliver and Lucien Ogier of Ponchartrain.
In 1971, at the Tour d’Argent, the dinner featured a foie gras dragonfly Curnonsky pan-fried Bresse chicken. The libations included Puligny Montrachet and Laurent Perrier.
In October 1984 at the Pré Catelan, Colette and Gaston Lenôtre welcomed the ambassadors of nations “sensitive to the prestige of French culinary art” with frog legs by Alain Chapel and basil lobster by Pierre Wynants (Brussels).
In 1988, in a tuxedo and long dress, guests were served Diaghilev lobster and Tour d’Argent duckling with Port jelly. In addition to the crème de la crème of gastronomy (Bocuse, Savoy, Loiseau, etc.), the stars of the day, such as Eddy Barclay or Jacques Martin were also invited, and everyone joined in joyful song!
Dossier Les Grandes Tables du Monde :
©Kris Maccotta, ©La Fourchette des Ducs, ©Marie Pierre Morel, ©Restaurant Michel Trama, ©Restaurant
Steirereck, ©Paolo Terzi, ©Scott Wright, ©Restaurant Sat Bains ,©Restaurant Le Normandie.
Timeless… and in motion
All the professions in catering
Les Grandes Tables du Monde, founded by restaurateurs, has always supported all the professions in haute gastronomy. In recent years, newly-created awards (best room manager, sommelier, pastry chef, etc.) have showcased the know-how that, when combined, creates unforgettable experiences for customers.
Judging the experience
A very good meal that leaves the patron feeling bored is a failed meal. A great restaurant should also offer a moment of enjoyment, and there is nothing wrong with going against the codes that applied yesterday. The association feels that the thinking behind the restaurant experience is of central importance. Cuisine alone is not enough for an exceptional experience. Chefs each tell the story they wish, in their own words — but what matters is that the story work its magic.
Experiencing the wealth others can bring
In the late 2000s, some members may have felt a rift between the long-standing members and the newcomers. The former felt part of a club of chums, and were satisfied with having reached that aim, while the latter wanted things to get moving: somehow, the association needed to keep alive the spirit of the legacy members, while moving forward at the pace of the new ones. Today, young chefs are applying in droves and need to interact. These new talents are impressed by the legendary establishments in their midst, while the historical figures are impressed by the calibre of the new members: multiple generations, living in harmony side by side.
« Tradition is a perpetual motion. It moves forward, it changes, it lives. Living tradition appears everywhere. Strive to preserve it in the manner of your times”.Jean Cocteau
Differing perspectives on the profession
True to the words of the poet and decidedly not clinging to an old idea of culinary tradition made in France, the association wants its words to ring out as society evolves. By taking up the issues that matter to it, the association is moving with its times and exploring many questions as to how great restaurants should develop into the future. At conferences, it is present alongside members as they reflect on the future of their establishments.
Venice, New York, Marrakesh…
… and in 2019, the Riviera. Every autumn, the members come together for their annual congress. This is where it all happens. The stars all come out and show that the association is in splendid form. But there is more: « We go back over the events of the past few months, explaining all the actions taken and statements made, bringing in experts, challenging them,” he said. For once, we stop talking about numbers and think about tomorrow together. ”, explains Nicolas Chatenier, General Delegate. “Above all, this needs to be an exceptional event, on par with the experience they offer customers in their own establishments, so the bar is high… In Marrakesh, all dressed in white, they ate a couscous in the desert, they were caught in a downpour just before that, and they still remember that now.”
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