At Talloires, Jean Sulpice has spent three years creating extraordinary cuisine in an extraordinary location.
The Auberge du Père Bise is one of the jewels in the crown of French cuisine. There was a time when superstars and heads of state came in a steady stream: Richard Nixon, the Shah of Iran, Winston Churchill, Serge Gainsbourg. Brigitte Bardot penned a comment in the guestbook: “To the Père Bise, the wonderful inn where I feel so at home…but where it’s so good, I’m afraid I’ll get fat. All my love, BB.” Yes, it’s so good. And since Jean Sulpice came on board, it’s so very good. He came down the mountain from Val Thorens – where he’d accomplished much, including earning two Michelin stars – to wake up a place that had been lulled to sleep by the lapping of Lake Annecy. He and his wife, Magali, shook the institution back to life and, in just a few months, Jean was named Gault & Millau’s 2018 Chef of the Year. “I took over an establishment,” he tells us, “and so I have to bring it to its full potential, and that means in everything – the cuisine, the settings, the dining room, the garden. We’re reevaluating everything. And now that I’m a ‘hotelier,’ people spend the night at my place, so I also have to keep an eye on the guest rooms and the breakfasts. We’re writing our own story here. I’m very happy to be an innkeeper. Back in Val Thorens, I saw people who travelled just to spend two hours or a bit more eating there. Today, it’s great to see them enjoying the place as well as the cuisine. It’s more than just a meal, it’s an experience. One that’s very enriching for us all, as people.” And an experience that starts at the end of the dock: “You can come to my place by crossing the lake – I’d even encourage that. Coming to our restaurant from Annecy makes you feel like you’re in another land.”
“I loved cooking instinctively like that, in the moment.”
He actually had his “moment” quite recently when a violent storm hit the inn. A real storm. The lake was so rough it actually tossed boats onto the road. Tables, chairs, and everything else went flying. Trees fell on a transformer and plunged the village of Talloires into darkness, along with the restaurant’s kitchens. For the evening service, the dining room was candlelit, the light already muted. Suffice it to say that the guests couldn’t have even imagined what was going on in the kitchens. Jean is a mountain man, so he always has a headlamp at the ready. “Yes, we carried on with that service wearing headlamps. I really liked that!” Today, cooks tend to live surrounded by plugged-in appliances, electronic thermometers, high-performance gadgets, all so efficient that one could easily forget that cooking is about the right technique, the right time, the right heat. “There we were, me and my staff, in the dark, and it was like a wakeup call. We were in the flooded kitchen, without electricity, and we were cooking dishes over an open flame. The guys came up to me saying, ‘But chef, we don’t have an oven now, how’re we going to cook this?’ ‘Do it in the double boiler.’ I loved cooking instinctively like that, in the moment.”