- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

PARIS — Paris, once regarded as the gastronomical center of the world, is looking to a cadre of young chefs from a country derided for its love of processed cheese — gasp, the United States — to help raise the bar.

French chefs have been opening fine restaurants stateside for years, but up until about a decade ago, the opposite would have been almost unthinkable. Now, bright young things from New York, Chicago and Seattle are behind some of the City of Light’s most-hyped, hardest-to-get-into establishments.

Chefs such as Spring’s Daniel Rose, or Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian, the pair behind the Hidden Kitchen and the new Verjus, are bringing a fresh energy to Paris’ somewhat rigid fine-dining scene and infusing it with American eclecticism.

“Food in France has taken a lot of hits over the years … and they were pretty slow to acknowledge that it was going downhill,” said pastry chef-turned-writer David Lebovitz, one of a handful of American food bloggers who cover the Paris food scene.

“I think we’re now on the cusp of a real renaissance here” — thanks in part, he said, to this nouvelle crop of American-born or trained restaurateurs.

It used to be that French-American culinary exchanges followed the model established by Julia Child: Americans came to France to study and then went home to impart their wisdom, or simply to cook. Child attended Paris’ renowned Cordon Bleu culinary school in the 1940s, then returned to the U.S. to educate her compatriots on the art of French cuisine.

The new generation of American chefs here has dispensed with the going home part.

Mr. Rose, the thirty-something behind Spring — Paris’ hardest-to-come-by table, according to Le Figaro newspaper — moved here as a 19-year-old college student primarily, he said, out of laziness.

“I wanted to finish university in a place where I thought it would be really easy. And I thought, ‘The American University of Paris — English is my first language, it’s not everyone else’s, I probably have a pretty good chance,’ ” Mr. Rose said. He said he went to cooking school for largely the same reason.

After a series of apprenticeships with top French chefs, he opened the first incarnation of Spring, a 16-seat restaurant where the centerpiece was an open kitchen where Mr. Rose held court as he prepared the food — single-handedly at first.

“Everybody in the world loves a French restaurant and my project was to try to discover what was essential about a French restaurant. … And by paring it down to the essence, I was feeding [my clients] French food that they hadn’t seen in a long time,” said Mr. Rose in an interview in Spring’s new 28-seat location near the Louvre museum.

“It was a novelty. I was the American who opened the restaurant that all the French people wanted to open,” he said.

Mr. Rose has the reputation of being the French-EST of Paris’ American chefs, and the menu at Spring is unapologetically Gallic: There’s no Franco-American fusion, none of the catering to special dietary needs that’s become almost de rigueur in the U.S. — just a constantly changing medley of French classics made from top-notch, in-season products.

Taking the opposite tack is Marc Grossman, a New York filmmaker-turned-restaurateur who has set about Americanizing the way the French eat. In the land of the cote de boeuf, foie gras and escargot, Mr. Grossman founded two vegetarian eateries, Bob’s Juice Bar and Bob’s Kitchen.

“I think people are always looking for something different, and in carnivorous Paris I guess you could say we’re exotic,” said Mr. Grossman, whose ever-changing menu of smoothies, meat-free burgers and grain-packed muffins were the stuff of a minor culinary revolution when he first opened in 2006. “From the beginning, the response has been enthusiastic, and our customers have been unusually regular.”

Story Continues →