A Michelin-Starred Chef Stirs Up Soupe à l’Oignon
Discover the inspiration for Chef Christian Le Squer’s signature dish.
I’m at Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, following my guide through the sumptuous gallery lined with regal Flemish tapestries. As I watch guests leisurely enjoy a late breakfast, suddenly he taps a hidden button on the floor, and we slip behind the wall into the labyrinthine kitchens of Le Cinq. The Hotel’s fine dining restaurant has just been awarded three Michelin stars for the second consecutive year, while the Mediterranean menu at Le George and the Hotel’s newest dining addition, L’Orangerie, each recieved their first Michelin star this year.
We navigate around hot plates, sizzling pans and trays of freshly baked croissants to find Le Cinq’s Executive Chef Christian Le Squer in his whites, supervising the meticulous preparation of one of his signature dishes, a soupe à l’oignon. The classic French soup he serves, like many of the Hotel’s deft details, is quintessentially French, yet unique.
Originally from Brittany, Le Squer maintains a strong connection to slow-life values – he still cycles to work most mornings – and sustainability is important to him. To ensure the quality of the dishes, Le Squer and his team constantly seek out the best produce.
“We usually order from the best farmers, usually from people who specialize in one product,” he says. “For instance, for the onion soup, the onions come from one place in summer, and at this time of year they come from another, from the Cévennes [in south-central France], because they have a certain sweetness to them that I like.”
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Earning Michelin stardom
For more than 10 years, Le Squer was at Pavillon Ledoyen, another Parisian institution, where his cuisine earned him three Michelin stars. When he arrived at Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, in 2014, the chef’s challenge was to retrieve a third Michelin star for Le Cinq. By February 2017, he’d succeeded in doing so twice. And it’s easy to see why.
The extravagant, colonnaded Louis XV and Louis XVI surroundings certainly help, as does the stellar service, but the jewel in the crown is Le Squer’s cuisine, which plays on refined simplicity and a dedication to marrying unusual flavours.
“What drives me is my insatiable passion for movement, for evolution, for finding surprising new combinations,” he says. He vividly recalls one such surprise, a match made between oysters and foie gras that he tasted in Japan: “The iodic taste of the oyster cut through the bold fatty taste of the foie gras. It was wonderful.”
A modern twist on a classic
While Le Squer’s creative cuisine can be adventurous and doused in plenty of Breton spirit – he particularly likes seafood and fish – his signature dish remains the modest onion soup. “I wanted to reintroduce this old traditional bistro dish,” says the chef of soupe à l’oignon. “However, we’ve completely redesigned it, like Yves Saint Laurent, who redefined how women dressed with his trouser suit. For instance, we serve it on a plate as opposed to in a bowl.”
When the dish is placed before me, I hesitate to spoil the presentation – small, bulbous sweet onions arranged like flower petals on a fine Parmesan galette, dotted with confit onion beads and finished with a dash of truffle and thyme coulis. But I do, and every mouthful is a burst of flavour with all the gourmand comfort of a home-cooked soup.
“It’s precisely that emotion that flavours create that I love. To share that emotion with people is incredible,” Le Squer beams. “You know, it’s important to remember that eating doesn’t belong just to the luxury world. Wherever you cook, the most important thing is always to bring flavour – and therefore emotion.”