As most of you know, Chef Tony Maws works passionately to create his own flavor of the the bistrot moderne food tradition, inspired by the expertise of his mentors; legendary chefs, vintners, and farmers from wildly different food family trees. Whenever solicited, Tony is happy to recommend visiting the people and places under whose tutelage, either through direct or indirect training and exposure, he has been influenced to do what he does so well.
On a recent trip to France, my husband, Greg, and I were keen to visit Lyon for the fabled Lyonnais bouchon experience. Neither of us had spent much time in Lyon and didn’t know where to begin. (We only had 19 hours in Lyon and wanted to do it right.) Tony had offered high praise for Chez Brunet, the brainchild of chef Gilles Maysonnave, protege of Paul Bocuse. True to form, Tony steered us in the right direction.
Chez Brunet is a typical Lyonnais bouchon – which is essentially a small restaurant that specializes in house-made dishes; always meat, more meat, and meat “parts” like snout, tail, ear, tongue. In effect, you sit – and eat – cheek and jowl and the like for as long as you can continue to consume. As we learned, no bouchon experience lasts less than three hours
We arrived at 9:45, having pushed our reservation back because of our 10 hour drive from Normandy. We were the last to be seated, and were concerned about being rushed through our meal (which happened only at one moment). The place was covered in decorated mirrors, on which was written the menu and the specialties of the day, week, and season. Figure things like tripe stew, rabbit stew, blood sausage, head cheese, every type of paté imaginable, including house-made foie gras, pheasant, etc. Chez Brunet specializes in gibier, which is wild game and we discovered later in the evening that Chef Gilles has a deal with a hunter friend who hunts and traps all his game.
Now, it’s important to note that neither of us are meat eaters. But we’ve made a pact that we’ll treat ourselves to wild duck once/year if the time and circumstances are right, and in general, when traveling to France, all bets may be off. While I manage (mostly) to stay on the no mammal wagon while in France, Greg is likely to fall off all wagons completely, bounce a couple of times and land face first in a house-made terrine (a country pork paté) or plate of thinly sliced house-cured saucisson, which he did – happily and unrepentently – for his appetizer.
I started with a lentil soup with cream and scallops. We ordered a “pot” of chilled Beaujoulais (not Nouveau). Beaujoulais has become our wine of choice for Thanksgiving in general, and since we were just an hour south of Beaujolais country, this was an exquisite terroir treat.
Then on to the main course – which came out mistakenly while we were still eating the appetizer; a rush that is unusual in France. They realized their mistake quickly and disappeared back into the kitchen, which was not much bigger than a Smart car. About the same time, we saw who we presumed to be the chef wandering the room, and realized he probably quickly prepared the last dish to finish his evening. A friend of his showed up and sat near us. The chef joined him and a champagne cork popped.
Despite the timing mix-up, when the main course (re)arrived, it was delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed my once/year wild duck indulgence (i.e. hunted, not raised, colvert not canard) with three types of mushrooms, including cepes. Greg had a quenelle, which is a Lyonnais specialty – a dumpling in a rich sauce. He asked what was in it, and the server said nothing – the dumpling is enough. And it was, arriving in a cast iron pan, a puffed up dough loaf burnt to a light crisp at the top, swimming in a cream sauce. All the while we were savoring our meal, the chef was stealing glances of our faces and plates, I guess to measure our enjoyment.
For dessert Greg asked for the traditional cerval de canut, which he thought would be some sort of sweet cream dessert. No such luck. It’s a savory fresh cream concoction that reminded us both too much of sour-cream/ green-onion potato chip dip to appreciate that it wasn’t. (Cerval de canut literally means “brains of a silk-worker”. Lyon was the home of the European silk trade. That’s where the connection ends for me He inquired what kind of cake-like desserts they had, and the server was explaining one when the chef, smiling, leaned over and whispered in French (apparently to simplify the sell) “it’s four-quarters – 1/4 kg butter, 1/4 kg sugar, 1/4 kg flour, 1/4 kg eggs”. Sold.
And that’s how it started. We mentioned to the chef and his friend that we had been recommended by Chef Tony Maws, who had spent time training in Lyon. Sure enough, Monsieur (Gilles) Maysonnave had heard of this “young American chef exposing American eaters to Lyonnais cuisine.” He was delighted. The restaurant cleared out and it began to feel more like a family dining room than a public bistrot. We spent the next two hours sitting and talking about all things food and wine related with the chef, his friend, and two servers (one who was the chef’s wife). They generously poured us some of their champagne. (Neither of us being champagne fans we were a bit skeptical, but their enthusiasm about the quality of this particular bubbly quieted our concerns). At one stage, we were talking about foie gras – and 5 minutes later, we had a slice of house-made foie gras each. It was too much food, after dessert even, but Greg tried his best to polish his off, while I discreetly had to pass. Chef Gilles eventually asked if we didn’t like it “Too salty. It’s too salty, isnt it?” and we had to graciously impress upon him that we were so full with gloriously rich food we just couldn’t eat a another single bite.
To acknowledge their generosity, we offered to get the next round of champagne. Chef Gilles went on to talk about the internationally famous Lyonnais chef – and his mentor – Paul Bocuse. At one stage he was rifling though his photos, proudly showing us shots of him with Paul. They told us to go to Les Halles Bocuse (an indoor market) for lunch – “Tell them Gilles Maysonnave sent you” – where we would find only the freshest fish, snails, frog’s legs, oysters, etc.
When we finally took our leave at 1am, we were sated and floating. We noticed on the cab ride home that our champagne round was almost half the entire bill – and worth every centime. Being invited to the Chez Brunet family table was priceless.
On our travels we’ve learned that recommendations are the way to go and Chef Tony Maws’ are well worth exploring. This three hour restaurant experience was truly a slice of Lyon. The conscious intention and attention that goes into food procurement, preparation, and enjoyment is directly related to what the Lyonnais hold dear; a distinct love of place. Fittingly, this experience happened to fall on American Thanksgiving. It was a complete terroir experience and this Thanksgiving we felt tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to get in touch with the people, food, and wine of a particularly special place.
- Amanda Dates and Greg Beuthin, November 2007
23, rue Claudia
Tél : 04 78 37 44 31
Fax : 04 78 42 45 74
Propriétaire : Gilles Maysonnave