Benjamin Luzuy is a busy man. That’s what happens when talent meets opportunity. Always full of new ideas and the vision to execute them, Luzuy has proven ready to seize the moment when a landlord approaches him with a unique restaurant space in need of a partner-tenant or when a financier with capital seeks a restaurant partner with proven expertise. Luzuy’s thriving Bottle Brothers model was the coming together of financier and chef while the upcoming restaurant at 55 Florissant in Champel brings together chef and landlord. Now, newly arrived at the Geneva International Airport is a third type of synergistic business model: the coming together of the Autogrill group and its business management acumen and Luzuy’s singular vision of hospitality.
That vision was recently on display at a private reception celebrating the opening of Le Chef, the off-spring of this dynamic partnership. While Luzuy is front and center the face and creative force behind the remodel and rebranding of the previous restaurant, Altitude, it is the casual, welcoming style of the build-out and the nurturing character of his food that stands out. Luzuy is first and foremost inclusionary: he believes that food acts as a political and cultural statement that should embrace and welcome everyone it touches and by extension the restaurant’s environment and staff should do the same. Of course, he concedes, there remains a place for haute gastronomy and the style of service that delivers it, but its costs are out of reach for some and its fussiness perhaps off-putting to others.
Like many millennials Luzuy embraces a return to gardening’s roots: seasonal variety, hyper-local sourcing and sustainable practices. The results of his thoughtful and careful shopping are a wide range of clear, bright and seasonally appropriate flavors where each ingredient speaks for itself and is never overwhelmed by another, with a simplicity of preparation that is neither overwrought nor attenuated. Luzuy’s culinary vision includes the presentation of nourishing seasonal food in four elemental ways—raw and marinated, steamed, quick flame and slow-cooked—to be enjoyed by young and old alike, business persons, hipsters and housewives. Not surprisingly the commitment to simple, healthful food and the philosophy that goes with it has its counterparts in Berkeley, Sydney and London. It is a style of service and the type of food I enjoy most.
The evening’s food was delicious, clean and soul-satisfying. Just what I would expect from a chef with his feet on the ground. What follows is a short list of some of the small plates served at the event:
—First up was a small chunk of firm, raw salmon briefly smoked a la minute under a glass cloche. Instead of permeating the flesh the smoke flavor hung around as if it was a separate element waiting to melt away on the tongue. It did beautifully.
—Next up, was a refreshing, clean and briny, seafood crudo on a red endive leaf. Whatever smoke was left from the salmon was cleansed away while the sweetness and brininess of the seafood lingered. This was impeccably fresh.
—Following was a beautifully composed fried quail egg with thin slices of crisp, blanched asparagus and other seasonal vegetables propelled by a delicious umami-laden reduction.
—The evening’s highlight for me was a delicious ragout of minced chanterelles, diced lobster and the barest hint of caramel. It was beautifully balanced. Too much caramel flavor would have toppled everything into chaos. This dish confirmed to me that there really is a finely tuned palate at work.
—What followed was also a contender for best flavors of the night: a moist and chewy cube of pork belly was set up with root vegetables (parsnips, I think), a little turnip purée and pork jus. Lots of umami flavor again but finishing with a small hit of coffee bean. That single, subtle finishing kick spoke to precision and added effortless depth to the dish. Balance in spades.
On the drinks side of things, several very nice wines were offered by the glass, among them a non-vintage Pommery “Brut Royal” Champagne (Pommery was a sponsor of the evening), a 2014 Aligoté “Lully” from Domaine Mermoud and a 2014 Pinot Noir “Le Petit Lullier” from Château l’Evéque. In a nod to collaboration and sourcing he has enlisted the preeminent natural wine purveyors, Le Passeur du Vin, to populate his small list with local names. The above mentioned wines are joined by the Cave de Genève, Domaine Dugerdil and Domaine de la Colombe as other notable locals. Bottles from Vaud, Valais, France and Italy fill things out.
While I neglected to order a cocktail from the lovely and busy bar (driving you know) the list of specialty cocktails looks appealing and given Luzuy’s track record with cocktail bars I’d have to assume they are state of the art.
To his credit Luzuy finds collaboration easy and satisfying. He is eager to give credit to his purveyors and to his team of very talented cooks and kitchen staff. He is humble and personable with just the right attitude to succeed in this very difficult business. While the airport is not the first place I think of when I want to dine out I will definitely make a point of visiting when I am in the area. I suggest you give it a try as well.