In 1932, Madame Marthe Allard decided to open a restaurant in Paris, Chez Allard. It is the beginning of a story deeply woven into traditional French country cuisine, a story of resolute women who love to cook, who master French classics to perfection, and passionately share their creations on Rue Saint-André des Arts in the heart of the lively St German-des-Prés until today. You could call Chez Allard a gourmet bistro, cozily elegant, the flaming red leather benches and wooden chairs in front of floral wallpaper filled with happy guests for more than 80 years. The interior barely changed, and so did the dishes on the menu, there's still a strong focus on many of Madame Allard's original family recipes from Burgundy, passed from one woman to the next.
As soon as her son's wife, Fernande, joined the family, the chef didn't hesitate to introduce the young woman to all her kitchen secrets, and so the next generation was secured. Marthe Allard stayed in the small kitchen on Rue Saint-André des Arts all her life, for more than half a century, tweaking and refining her famous rustic staples, like Challans Duck with Olives or Sole Meunière.
After decades of female power at the cooker, there was finally a man in charge for 20 years, but when Alain Ducasse took over the restaurant, he knew he'd pass the reign to a woman again. Chez Allard has a female spirit, a female soul, Chez Allard is a woman. Since 2015, Fanny Herpin has been responsible for keeping the restaurant's tradition alive, the recipes that became "old culinary friends" to so many guests. The young and celebrated executive chef manages to incorporate this history and at the same time giving it validity 80 years after the first pages of Allard were written. Fanny is calm, quiet, but she's a woman you shouldn't underestimate. Her instructions are short and precise, she's charismatic.
When you open the ornate glass door to the restaurant, you stand right in front of Chez Allard's heart, the kitchen. The room is open and there isn't much space to move, this kitchen has to work smoothly and there's no doubt that Fanny accomplishes this task with grandeur.
Fanny Herpin is from Bordeaux, like Alain Ducasse, they even learned at the same culinary school. Both of them feel the same strong connection to their home region's famous cuisine and products and have many of them freshly brought to the restaurant every day, like the fois gras on Allard's menu. When Fanny talks about food, or when she peels carrots with the precision of a scientist, you can feel her love, her passion, her obsession with quality. When she discovered the wonders of cooking and baking, she was hooked. Alan Ducasse was always her idol, she studied his recipes, she dove deeply into the magic that he's been creating for decades. So when he called her to ask if she'd like to fill the position at Chez Allard, she was just 26, she remembers, "It was a big day, I didn't believe it was possible. I asked are you sure, me?" She says that she's still a little bit nervous when he comes and visits her at the restaurant. There's a humble heart inside this strong, inspiring woman.
The dish that she cooked together with us felt like a bite of Paris, her Petits Rougets Barbets au Beurre Blanc (red mullet with a buttery, vinegary shallot sauce and sautéed root vegetables) was as pretty and perfect as the city that it was made in.