France is renowned for a culinary tradition that forms the backbone of their national pride. The connection between the food of France and its’ people is undeniable: so much so, that in 2010 UNESCO incorporated French cuisine on its World Heritage List, bolstering the notion of French food as an intangible element of the French culture. Blistered baguettes, potent cheeses and robust wines are intrinsically connected to the image of the country where food is impossible to separate from daily life.
The history of French gastronomy has led to a somewhat elitest image of the fare. Stereotypes are born from truth and the fussiness of the culinary tradition is not entirely a fallacy. Many of the flavors associated with the nations’ cooking trace back to noble roots of the 17th and 18th centuries, and specifically to chef Marie-Antoine Carême. Catering to the tastes of royalty and rich Parisians, Carême refined French flavors and codified the cuisine into an elaborately complex form.
As food began to become a popular export, the French dishes presented to the world were that of the wealthy aristocracy. Much of the contemporary representation of French fare harkens back to noble presentations and in the Western world French food is often imagined as haute and extravagant.
Deep in the heart of pulsating Paris, chef Stephane Jego is working to return the image of French food to the peasant traditions of the countryside and the authentic culinary heritage of the French people. Out with the formal dining room and white gloved servers, Jego’s Chez L’Ami Jean looks more like a quirky Basque pub than a ceremonial dining affair. Literally meaning “to my friend, Jean” the restaurant exudes a welcoming atmosphere that beckons patrons to walk in off the street.
The boisterous space in the Seventh Arrondissement may not from the onset seem like a bastion of storied French cuisine. However, that is just what Chez L’Ami Jean is. Jego is classically trained and fine-tuned his culinary skills at some of Paris’ finest dining establishments. His kitchen serves up bistro-dized renditions of starred French fare with the emphasis placed on quality ingredients and bodied flavors, which are recognizable and comforting while at the same time not afraid to be presented as something new. On his menu that changes frequently (sometimes even tweaked and reprinted multiple times over the course of the night) one may find a pigeon terrine, a countryside omelet or prawns from Brittany but all the dishes are unmistakably French and remarkably flavorful.
Diners may also chose from a variety of menu options, aimed at providing gourmet meals at affordable bourgeois prices. Set menus range from the three course for 42€ to an 80€ meal that leaves you in the hands of trusty Jego himself. Of course, all dishes are available a la carte for those who want a quick taste or to design their own eating adventures.
On a recent trip to the French capital my friend Oliver and I were lucky to snag a reservation at the atmospheric gastro-bistro. Going with the three-course set, we were in for a gut-busting evening of fine grub. Whereas many set-menus are characterized by smaller plates, the portions at L’Ami Jean are not shy. Plate after plate was brought to our table, us swearing that each bite was somehow better than the last.
Whatever image you may have of French food, cast it aside. When in Paris, Stephane Jego treats all diners as if they’ve come home. Lively, entertaining and most importantly, incredibly tasty, L’Ami Jean is the heart and soul of a heritage that sits at the core of everything French. At Chez L’Ami Jean the exquisite technique and audacious flavors that made the country’s cuisine world famous are transformed into dishes for the bourgeois, or to anyone willing to wait the usual 1+ for a table.
Chez L’Ami Jean, 27 rue Malar, 75007 Paris, France, lunch 12- 2:30 PM, dinner 7 PM- 12 AM, 01 47 05 86 89, reservations recommended but walk-ins welcome