Alain Senderens, a world-renowned French chef who helped transform his nation’s cuisine twice, first by popularizing the light, seasonal tastes of nouvelle cuisine in the 1960s, and again in recent years when he forfeited a three-star Michelin rating to feed the less formal gourmand, died June 25. He was 77.
A spokesman for Lucas Carton, the Parisian restaurant where Mr. Senderens was long owner and chef, confirmed the death but did not provide other details. The newspaper Le Figaro reported that Mr. Senderens died at his home in Corrèze, in southwestern France.
Mr. Senderens was among the most celebrated chefs of his generation, a culinary artist once described by the French restaurant critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau as “the Picasso of French cooking.”
He first became known as the proprietor of L’Archestrate, on Paris’s Left Bank on the Rue de Varenne. He opened the restaurant in 1968 and a decade later earned his first three-star Michelin rating, a rare honor from the venerable red guide denoting “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”
Makers of such a special journey might have enjoyed Mr. Senderens’s lobster with vanilla, a signature dish of his kitchen that New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne deemed “a triumph of taste over logic.” Or they might have partaken of his pork cooked in the style of ancient Rome, with apricots, raisins, wine and honey. (The restaurant was named for Archestratus, the Greek foodie of antiquity.)
Along with chefs including Paul Bocuse and Michel Guerard, Mr. Senderens helped develop nouvelle cuisine, which dispensed with the heavy sauces of traditional French fare for lighter, often healthier dishes with an emphasis on fresh produce.
“Nouvelle cuisine,” Mr. Senderens told Claiborne, “is for the happy few — the cultured, the intelligent and educated.”
In the 1980s, Mr. Senderens moved to the Paris restaurant Lucas Carton, a mainstay of the Place de la Madeleine where Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France and U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing were said to have hammered out terms of the armistice at the end of World War I.
Under Mr. Senderens, the restaurant remained an eminent and — at an estimated $400 a head — expensive affair.
A typical meal, the London Guardian reported, might have included an appetizer of “royal langoustines wrapped in crisped vermicelli, shellfish cream and roasted almonds”; a main course of “crusty calf served with Thai vinaigrette, carrots prepared as tagliatelle and popcorn”; and a dessert of “souffleed meringue with peppermint and its licorice ice-cream.”
For nearly three decades, Lucas Carton boasted three Michelin stars. But in 2005, Mr. Senderens stunningly declared that he wished to renounce the rating, along with the heavy staffing, fancy linens and floral arrangements, and other trappings that went along with the most haute of haute cuisine.
Cooking while striving to maintain the Michelin rating, he said, was like “working under the sword of Damocles.”
“I don’t want to feed my ego anymore,” he told the Times. “I am too old for that. I can do beautiful cuisine without all the tra-la-la and chichi, and put the money into what’s on the plate.”
Mr. Senderens employed an architect to redesign the restaurant’s interior, keeping its famous wooden features but otherwise adopting a more modern, international decor. Marble tabletops were lit from the inside. Japanese paintings represented the Asian profile of many dishes on Mr. Senderens’s menu.
With a pared down staff and fewer luxuries, the price tag for a meal dropped into the range of $100 a head, attracting a younger, less formal clientele. To Parisians, the change was so cataclysmic that Le Figaro reportedly compared it to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Michelin disputed that the stars were Mr. Senderens’s to return and awarded the new Lucas Carton restaurant, renamed Alain Senderens, a two-star rating.
For his part, Mr. Senderens described its offerings as “three-star cuisine but not at three-star prices.” He joked that he replaced turbot with burbot, a cheaper fish, and forsook truffles but not imagination.
“To make a pigeon in soy sauce and serve it with tea, even for me that makes me afraid,” he told the Times in 2005. “Have I gone too far? Will I be taken for a fool? But oh, the juices I can make with vegetables!”
Mr. Senderens was born in Hyères, in southeastern France, on Dec. 2, 1939. His father, a high-end barber, and his mother “thought that the principal things in life were eating well and reading,” Mr. Senderens told the Times.
He apprenticed at a hotel in Lourdes before becoming a rotisserie chef at La Tour d’Argent, the historic Paris restaurant. After his retirement a few years ago, the restaurant Alain Senderens became known once again as Lucas Carton.
Mr. Senderens’s writings included “The Table Beckons: Thoughts and Recipes From the Kitchen of Alain Senderens” and cookbooks written with his wife, Eventhia Pappadinas Senderens. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Senderens was widely known for the thought that he put into every detail of a meal, from wine pairings to presentation. But there was thinking and there was overthinking, he seemed to say, and details that mattered and those that didn’t.
“We don’t have the right anymore to throw out clients who arrive in sneakers without a coat and tie,” he told the Times. “Sometimes in the evenings here there are clients who are so self-conscious they don’t even dare to talk to each other. Dining has become too intellectual.”