Alain Ducasse’s Bistro Allard Keeps Tradition and Local Spirit Alive in Paris
Traditional French Bistros are slow to change. Locals prefer to dine in their familiar surroundings and frequent their favorites over and over again. When a celebrity chef like Alain Ducasse takes over a place fear spreads like wildfire in the local community. Will he change the ambiance, the cuisine and will it become too commercial?
Allard Bistro has been an institution in the 6th arrondissement of Paris for the past 80 years owing its fine reputation to, of all things, simplicity. The neighborhood fans demand home cooking and tradition. When Mr. Ducasse took over he vowed to keep the personality and local flair. He entrusted chef Laëtitia Roubah to take over the reigns and earn the trust of die-hard French residents and sophisticated travelers. Mr. Ducasse mentored chef Roubah at the Plaza Athénée and London’s Dorchester. I sat down with her to learn how she has been able to carry-on the bistro tradition and earn the respect of discerning diners.
What has changed since Mr. Ducasse and you took over the bistro?
We opened three months ago after a renovation of the house and kitchen. Mr. Ducasse wanted to keep the DNA intact. We brightened up the interior a bit with new paint, but we wanted to keep the spirit and character the same. And, we serve seven classic dishes from the history to respect the past and celebrate tradition.
Have the locals embraced the changes?
Slowly we have earned their trust and the former clients are returning and feeling the essence as it has always been. I am seeing more and more of them coming back again and again and I am learning their names and faces. Some have even come in and have given me hugs!
What things help keep the spirit alive?
We worked on a transition with the former owners and chef so that we could learn their style and what types of dishes the clients like. When I became the chef and we reopened, I used some new techniques and recipes, but kept the soul alive with traditional French dishes. Our team in the front of the house, the sommeliers and the kitchen work together like a family to make sure that our clients are happy.
Tell me more about the food and your signature dishes.
To respect the seasons and cook with fresh products of each time of the year is something I am passionate about and of course the sauces are key ingredients to making the traditional cuisine great. The beef bourguignon sauce takes 24 hours to make and the dish takes seven hours to slow cook.
My favorite dishes of the house are the duck foie gras on toasted country bread, Fernande Allard’s traditional frog’s legs, roasted Bourbonnais free-range chicken, and the Veal Sweetbreads with green asparagus from Provence.
What is your ultimate goal? A Michelin star?
Of course I would love a Michelin star, but my principal motivation to cook well and what is most important to me is to have happy clients and to feel good about what I am cooking each and every night. It’s my passion when I am here in the restaurant. We are open seven days a week because we love what we do and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else.
Can you share a recipe with our readers?
An easy to make cucumber Fernande Allard style dish is something everyone can make at home with fresh ingredients for a little French tradition.
Cucumber Fernande Allard for 4 people
Slice in half and then into quarters and make bit size pieces
Add a bunch of chopped fresh parsley
Top with Vinaigrette dressing:
1.5 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
5.5 Tablespoons of colza (rapeseed) oil
2 Teaspoons of Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Allard Bistro | 41, rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris
All photos taken by Priscilla Pilon