L a B o u i t t e
St. Martin de Belleville
Michelin Stars: Three
Poke me with a fourchette à escargot for saying this, but it occurs to me as I cross the snowy frontier at Le Châtelard that my heavenly days in Switzerland were only a pre-game warm-up — a fabulous bit of foodie foreplay — to France.
France is the home of the Guide Michelin, which was first published in the year 1900. Even then, tires didn’t wear themselves out: Michelin stars originated in the company’s desire to get Europe driving, and a Frenchman will drive a long way for a good meal. My road, of course, is white and fluffy, across Les Trois Vallées from Courchevel to Méribel, over to St. Martin de Belleville, and finally down a gentle meadow to the door of the Alps’ all-time finest ski-in restaurant: La Bouitte.
I have been skiing to lunch at La Bouitte since it was a one-star at the edge of St. Marcel. And there it remains, right where René Meilleur opened it 40 years ago: the first restaurant of a self-taught chef in his home village. In 2015, La Bouitte earned the highest award possible: three Michelin stars, as well as galaxies of fans from around the world.
“Plus de gras, plus de crème!” His words go straight to my heart, though I know they’re aiming lower. Two white-jacketed sous-chefs approach Chef Meilleur with a new dish for his approval, a comely palm-size tin of Petrossian caviar married with omble chevalier, egg, parsley, and cream. The result is top-heavy with caviar. He passes me he creation and I help myself to as huge a dollop as propriety permits. Possibly huger. “You are the first, you’re in luck!”
I certainly am. I lucked into morning coffee and caviar with Chef Meilleur before lunch service begins and we sit down to talk about how he celebrated his third star last February. It was, he claims, work as usual until May. “And then we drank a lot of champagne.” As always, Madame Meilleur is in front of house, and son Maxime co-chefs in the kitchen. “Nothing has changed since the third star,” says Maxime with a grin, wielding a plate of saffron cream-filled beignets (to call them donuts would be like calling Catherine Deneuve cute). “We work hard and we deserve it.” Many agree. The day after the three-star announcement, 600 requests for reservations arrived, many from three-star groupies. One Hong Kong couple flew into Geneva, then hopped on a helicopter to St. Marcel, simply for dinner. They jetted home the following day.