When restaurants in France were forced to close on March 15 due to the coronavirus, many kitchens switched to takeout. That's manageable if you serve crêpes, burgers or sushi. But what if you're a three-Michelin-star chef?
Guy Savoy is one of those chefs — among the world's most celebrated — and his response has been to adapt. He is champing at the bit for the day he can reopen his four Paris restaurants. (His fifth, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, is also closed). Until then, he's venturing with optimism into the takeout business.
"We chefs and restaurateurs have had to sit by completely helpless as our activities were put in an artificial coma, even though they're in perfect health," he says.
A recent easing of restrictions does not include France's 160,000 restaurants. The French government has said it may be possible for them to reopen in June.
"I'm talking to chefs in a total state of shock," Michelin Guide director Gwendal Poullennec told Le Figaro newspaper this month.
Poullennec said only 13% of Michelin-starred restaurants have been able to reopen so far across the world.
Savoy says the inaction was killing him. So when France's lockdown was lifted on May 11, he decided to begin offering takeaway service. Earlier this week at Le Chiberta, his restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe, Savoy wore a face mask instead of a toque. The restaurant was empty, but the kitchen was busy.
Included in the abbreviated menu on this day were two of his signature dishes, the artichoke soup with truffles and Parmesan, and a ballotine of poultry with foie gras and a truffle vinaigrette.
Parisian Jean Gosset, who recently ordered Savoy's takeaway, says it's great to enjoy a master chef's meal at home at an affordable price. A prix fixe menu including starter, entree and dessert costs $60.
"It interrupts the monotony of this confinement and reminds us that we have these amazing chefs," Gosset says.
While most restaurant workers are still receiving paychecks, thanks to the French government's unemployment support system, analysts estimate that around 25% of of the country's restaurants may not survive this crisis. Others wonder if the cozy French bistro will survive in a new era of social distancing and face masks.
Savoy doesn't share these doubts.
"The restaurant is one of the symbols of French art de vivre," he says. "It's what we live for and why tourists come to France. From the little bistro to the outdoor cafe, the gastronomic restaurant is where we go to meet friends and be with family and to fête special occasions. I have faith that all of this will come back as soon as this virus disappears."