Our favourite touring companion, the Volvo XC60, may not on this occasion have been fitted with Michelin tyres and the latest Michelin Guide been absent from the glove compartment, but nevertheless, Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, was very much a focal point for our tour through Europe when leaving Chiswick during a recent pre-Covid-19 season. A more comfortable vehicle for travelling on the well-engineered roads of France is hard to find and after our initial exploration of Champagne from Reims we were invited to enjoy a Lyonnais meal by Christian Têtedoie, “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” schooled in the Bocuse tradition, hosting us in his L'Antiquaille hillside gastronomic fort, of which his Têtedoie Michelin star restaurant forms an integral part together with the more casual Le Bistrot and Le Rooftop in Maison Têtedoie.
Focusing on the view from a starred restaurant might seem like being preoccupied by the interval refreshments at the opera, after all it is the food you should be enjoying here. But having the whole of this ancient city laid out before you when seated at an eloquently decorated table is definitely an added bonus bearing in mind the beauty and gastronomic importance of Lyon. The third-largest city and second-largest urban area of France is located at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône and during the Renaissance the city's development was driven by the silk trade, which strengthened its ties to Italy, Italian influence on Lyon's architecture still being visible among its historic buildings.
One of the joys of dining at a restaurant recommended as part of the long tradition established by Édouard and André Michelin dating back to the year 1900 is to feel the presence of the chef responsible for the kitchen, possibly coming out greeting his guests at the end of the meal. So, who is Christian Têtedoie? Born near Nantes in 1961 to parents who were market gardeners, his love for good and fresh products undoubtedly generated his interest in cooking. Acquiring the coveted “Meilleur Apprenti de France” at 17, he continued developing his culinary skills at Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc and even the kitchens of the Elysée where he was taking care of the presidential meals.
Whether preparing meals for dignitaries or the public Christian Têtedoie has only one canon: “If I wish to reach out to those who taste my cuisine, I have to be sincere. One cannot cut corners with a good product, and the necessarily personal inspirations and technique involved in preparing a dish must be properly handled”. Since opening his first restaurant in Lyon 1986, he has gone from strength to strength winning the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, before obtaining in 2000 his first star in the Michelin Guide. In March 2010, he opened this restaurant, where he shares his love for good food while enhancing the French culinary heritage in a very exclusive location on top of Lyon’s hills.
“For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a chef”, he proclaims. “I’ve tried to understand why; but in the end there is no real explanation – other than my love of good food, perhaps… Cooking is an innate part of me, and it all clicked one day when my uncle gave me Paul Bocuse’s La cuisine du marché (Cuisine from the market)’ for my 10th birthday. It was a revelation, and at that moment I knew that it was the profession and culinary approach for me”.
When asked about his sources of inspiration he says: “There are many, but the main one comes from the produce. It is the produce that lets us prepare good cuisine. I never cease to pay homage to it, to highlight it, to prepare it as carefully as possible in order to draw what is best from each ingredient. And I have to admit that when I chose Lyon to be my adoptive home I was in luck, as the region is bursting with wonderful produce that every day provides me with a first-class pantry. And then comes the moment when I put my cuisine forth to be discovered. That moment when I bring a dish to the customer is the one I particularly enjoy, for that is when I reap the fruits of my labour. It is at that exact moment that I truly share my passion”.
And this passion Christian Têtedoie shares with a generous disposition. “For me, the greatest quality a chef can have is probably generosity. Making others happy will always be what motivates me above all else; it is a source of inspiration and measure of progress. It is with heartfelt joy that I conceive the recipes that you can taste in my restaurant”.
The passion, sincerity, generosity and the quality of the local produce were abundantly present in the “Menu Carte Blanche” signature selection of courses chosen for us by the chef himself, catering without effort for preference towards vegetarian options and certainly fulfilling the Michelin criterion for the star awarded: “A very good restaurant in its category”. However, we find the accolade associated with the highest merit of cuisine more appropriate here: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. We look forward to that journey one fine day.