The Austin Chronicle

Menus-Plaisirs - Les Troisgros

Not rated, 240 min. Directed by Frederick Wiseman.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Dec. 29, 2023

As with everything else in life, for a restaurant to receive a Michelin star is transient. To be bestowed with one is to be recognized for a remarkable haute cuisine experience, but also to be assured that every year it will be reevaluated for that restaurant’s continued inclusion in the venerable guide. So, to be able to hang on to the maximum three Michelin stars for more than 50 years is something of an accomplishment. That this restaurant, Les Troisgros, is nestled comfortably in the gorgeous French countryside outside of the small town of Roanne, near the river Loire, shouldn’t surprise anyone. That acclaimed filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (City Hall, Titicut Follies, Ex Libris: New York Public Library) should focus his camera on Les Troisgros and the family that runs it shouldn’t really surprise anyone either. Wiseman’s been mostly living in Paris since the Seventies, and while his recent work since 2012's Crazy Horse has delved into the inner workings of American institutions, what concerns all his films is one thing: the process.

Because, with apologies to Elon Musk (not really), it is all about the process. For 60-year-old Papa Michel Troisgros and his sons César and Léo, that means perusing the open-air markets in search of vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and whatever catches their eyes, before adjourning to a meeting room to hash out potential plates, exchange ideas, and argue about the seasonal availability of every ingredient involved. It is here that the family dynamic is gleaned. Michel asserts, but mostly defers, to eldest son César (who basically runs Troisgros), with young Léo pitching his own dishes (he runs his own restaurant, La Colline du Colombier, down the way). Menu more or less sorted, Wiseman moves into the restaurant’s massive kitchen, with its army of stoically single-minded chefs chopping, braising, whisking, boiling, prepping, and experimenting with all manner of flora and fauna.

While these scenes offer a familiar and soothing satisfaction in seeing food prepared, the film rarely follows a dish from conception to completion, and lingering shots of perfectly plated dishes are largely absent. Wiseman is more interested in the rhythms of the kitchen than the photogenic appeal of the courses. (Not so the clientele, who more often than not whip out their phones to snap a shot of their food when it’s placed before them.) Field trips to a cheese aging facility, a winery (of course), and a cattle farmer, whose methods of grazing are plotted out with mathematical precision, highlight the care and passion that are instilled into each and every morsel dropped onto the plate with the tiniest of tweezers. Menus-Plaisirs is a fascinating exploration of that passion, and perhaps the closest many of us will get to experiencing it at all.

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