“I only realised his true relevance when I started studying gastronomy and, in class, the teacher asked us to open the book. There he was, as one of the greatest kitchen innovators of all time. Until then, for me, he was just my grandfather,” said Thomas Troisgros of chef Pierre Troisgros, one of the pioneers of the iconic nouvelle cuisine movement, who died on 23 September, 2020, at the age of 92.
Alongside his brother, Jean, Pierre Troisgros took over his parents' L'Hôtel Moderne in Roanne and opened the small restaurant Les Frères Troisgros, also known as Maison Troisgros. Their upward trajectory in gastronomy led them to earn three Michelin stars in 1968, which they retained for more than 50 years — until Pierre's son, Michel Troisgros, relocated the restaurant to nearby Ouches in 2017.
Maison Troisgros put Roanne on the French culinary map. Even the railway station of Roanne was often referred to as 'the station in front of La Maison Troisgros', such was the reputation of the Troisgros brothers. Trailblazer chef Paul Bocuse once said: ''If you think my restaurant was good, you should go to Roanne where the food is even better.”
The Troisgros brothers had played a pivotal role in the development of contemporary French cuisine, with the Gault & Millau guide labelling Maison Troisgros ‘the best restaurant in the world’ in 1968 — long before the likes of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants appeared on the scene. It was one of the first restaurants anywhere to gain true international notoriety.
In fact, when the guide’s founders, Henri Gault and Christian Millau, coined the term ‘nouvelle cuisine’, which became known worldwide, they did it in direct reference to the culinary style created by the Troisgros brothers, later taken up by Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard, Charles Barrier, and other renowned French chefs.
The brothers' style merged simplicity and purity, with a hint of acidity and lashings of innovation — essential components that became a trademark of Troisgros’ cuisine, and still carried on by their descendants. It is all present in the much-copied salmon with sorrel sauce, which came to represent nouvelle cuisine all those years ago.
The history of the recipe is marked by luck: one day Pierre Troisgros was wondering how to prepare a salmon fillet with a technique he had learned in Paris (flattening the fish) and found a basket with lots of sorrel in the kitchen. He made a sauce using the plant with shallots, cream, and white wine and came up with the iconic dish.
But the genius and innovation behind it are evidence of a talented mind: the lightly-cooked salmon (something that Troisgros had seen in the Basque Country) ran contrary to a wider tendency to overcook during this time. And the sauce, placed under the fish, reversed the established logic. The simple dish would change the course of French gastronomy, at a time when there was a tension in French kitchens between tradition and innovation.
An interpretation of Pierre Troisgros' iconic salmon with sorrel sauce
In an episode of the French Netflix series Chef's Table, Troisgros explained that diners would often send the dish back: "They usually said 'learn your job and cook this fish.'" But recognition from colleagues and food writers came quickly: Le Monde called it 'The New French Cooking of Jean and Pierre Troisgros.'
The recipe lead to wholesale changes in French gastronomy. Instead of table-side service, French chefs began sending out from the kitchen dishes already arranged on the plate. This ensured everyone at the table received the same-sized portion, with the same amount of sauce, at the same temperature. For the first time, waiters were relegated to ferrying plates, not cooking them. And the chefs started to gain more relevance — and fame.
The revolution initiated by Troisgros and other nouvelle cuisine chefs is still present today in a gastronomic aesthetic that we have come to value from the art of plating. If today you take pictures of your well-arranged meals to post on your Instagram profile, you can credit them for it.
But the Troisgros brothers’ creations went beyond recipes: they developed bigger plates to serve their food, in a way to create a more beautiful aesthetic in plating. They began to look at gastronomy as a whole, not just in cooking preparation, and influenced a new generation of cooks worldwide.
If Marie-Antoine Carême was the first celebrity chef, Escoffier created a strict hierarchy in professional kitchens, and Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin made us understand that food was not just a hedonist distraction, then the Troisgros brothers showed the world that simplicity could generate imaginative and often whimsical combinations.
His sons, Michel and Claude Troisgros (who runs a restaurant empire in Brazil), carry on his culinary dynasty, as do his grandchildren, Thomas, César and Leo, all dedicated to the kitchen. The family still has an outpost (Cuisine Michel Troisgros) in Japan.
Claude posted on his Instagram profile that his father “marked generations of cooks with his free, happy and creative mind”. Pierre’s grandson, Thomas, told Fine Dining Lovers that his grandfather was “my Jedi in gastronomy,” and said he enjoyed the company of younger cooks. “Whenever I introduced him to my friends, he said: ‘I love being with young people in the kitchen because I’m always learning’. How amazing is it coming from a guy that changed the whole gastronomy scene?”
“Pierre embodied the transmission and innovation that has always permeated the kitchens of the establishment,” said the international director of the Michelin Guides, Gwendal Poullennec. And Chef Daniel Boulud, a great friend of the Troisgros family, wrote: “Maison Troisgros is the only house in France where the legacy spans across four generations with a lifetime commitment to excellence. May we all cook Saumon à l’Osseille forever in his memory.”