You might get confused when you hear the name Guy Martin. This Martin isn’t a motorcycle racer/lorry mechanic or the Ventura-based blues guitarist. This Martin is the man who took over for the famed Raymond Oliver and became the chef at Le Grand Véfour and he’s the topic of the documentary “Guy Martin: Portrait of a Grand Chef.”
Le Grand Véfour is an institution in Paris. Founded in 1784 as the Café de Chartres in 1784, it was renamed Le Grande Véfour in 1820 when Jean Véfour, took over and made it a meeting place for politicians, artists and writers. Thiers, Victor Hugo, Lamartine and George Sand were patrons. The restaurant went dormant, closing from 1905 to 1947. A new owner brought in chef Raymond Oliver who brought the Grand Véfour back to prominence with regulars such as Cocteau, Colette, Jean Firaudous, Sacha Guitry, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Oliver was awarded three stars in 1953 and kept up that standard for 30 years.
By the 1980s, the restaurant was classified as a historical monument.
Martin’s triumph was bringing a three-star back to Le Grand Véfour in March 2000. It was a triumph for every foodie, too because Martin was self-educated. If he had been a better guitar player, he might have been a rock star as he first dreamed of. Instead, he began working at a restaurant. He trained at a pizzeria, making four types of pizza that tasted good because they were made with love.
Director Lionel Boisseau shows us not only Martin’s childhood inspirations coming from the French countryside and how he means to inspire children. “Passings things on has always been important,” he explains. From the beginning of the movie, snatches of him being interviewed by children and teaching them the appreciation of food and good dining are shown in between interviews with Martin and his fellow chefs as well as scenes of Martin returning significant places in France and traveling to Japan for inspiration.
Martin grew up in the Savoy region of France which is in the Western Alps, between Lake Geneva and Dauphiné. Historically, the area was part of both France and Italy.
This 2008 movie aptly display Martin’s charm and the disarming honesty and humor he displays with children who have no fear of asking any questions or even explaining just what donuts are.
Martin confesses that he has no skill in languages, but with food there are “no borders, no taboos, no regions.” He’s also inspired by art. One friends comments, “He’s an artist. You can’t even congratulate him; he was born that way.” Boisseau shows Martin developing a dish based on shades of red. According to Martin, “there’s no real calculation” because “things happen naturally.”
You’ll be taken by Martin’s unaffected charm, especially when as he interacts with the children. Martin’s enthusiasm for food is catching and so French. I guess that’s why the French differentiate between gourmet and gourmand. This is for the gourmet inclined.
In French with English subtitles. “Guy Martin: Portrait of a Grand Chef” is available at First Run Features as a separate DVD or as part of the Culinary Masterpieces: Four Great Foodie Films special edition box set.
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