Of the stately chateaux-hotel-restaurants in France—venerable provincial destinations where one gambols among historic gardens and tucks in for a serious dinner—Reims's Les Crayères is the platonic ideal.
The first chef to put the turn of the century house's restaurant on the map was Gerard Boyer, who was at the time of his retirement in 2003, among the longest-running holders of three Michelin stars in the country. His kitchen at Les Crayères trained such future heavyweights as L'Arpège's Alain Passard, Le Pré Catelan's Frédéric Anton and Tom Aikens. "Among the many things Boyer taught me," says Passard, himself the holder of three stars, "is that there should be art in every gesture."
To salute the chef emeritus, Les Crayères gathered Passard, Anton, their current chef, Meilleur Ouvrier de France Philippe Mille, and Boyer himself, to put together a combo-menu, called Transmission et Partage (Inheritance and Sharing), which is on offer at Les Crayères until December 23, after three months of planning.
From Anton comes a curry-scented crab salad with dill cream and French caviar; Passard's second course is poached Channel Island lobster with shaved raw turnip and honey-olive oil, which caused Boyer to shout upon tasting at the kickoff lunch earlier this month, "This dish is nothing, and yet it's everything!"
From Boyer comes a perfect piece of turbot with an aromatic champagne beurre blanc, and Mille has cooked up a faux-filet of Wagyu beef with carrots rolled with cured beef so tender and savory they almost steal the whole show.
"It's here I learned the foundations of cooking that have taken my through my whole career," says the voluble Anton, whose own career (three stars, MOF, star of France's Master Chef for three years running) is plenty glossy. That Boyer could humble such personalities back to padewan learners may be the greatest achievement of all.
Alexandra Marshall is Travel + Leisure's Paris correspondent.