In the late 2000s and early teens, the Paris food scene took on a fresh, youthful air. As part of the bistronomy (bistro-meets-gastronomy) movement, ambitious young chefs have opened up laid-back bistros like Frenchie and Aux Deux Amis, offering quality food and an approachable ambience. Two of those leaders were fellow Australians James Henry and Shaun Kelly. “It was a very energetic time,” recalls Kelly, 38. “There were a lot of things opening up, a lot of different concepts.”
Henry made his reputation in Paris at the small bistro Au Passage, then in 2013, when he opened his own address, the hyper-seasonal spot Bones, he handed the reins of Au Passage to Kelly, a former colleague from their time at Melbourne restaurant Cumulus Inc. “There was an influence from Paris, and we brought in something from outside,” says Henry, 39 . seemed to work for this city.
After a three-year stint with Bones, Henry sold it and spent a year in Hong Kong. Upon his return to Paris, he decided to focus on his interest in baking at Ten Belles Bread, a popular bakery-café. Kelly went on to become chef at the neo-bistro Yard, then, after the birth of her son, left catering for the kitchen of the Australian Embassy in Paris to spend more time with her family.
During this time, the chefs kept in touch and started to work out a concept together. The slower pace of their work gave them the mental freedom to plan, and Kelly in particular took the time to immerse himself in agricultural research. During their days off, they cycled around the outskirts of Paris in search of disused warehouses. Their initial idea was to find an industrial building with outdoor space to open a new restaurant. Then, after a visit to the Chateau de Saint-Vrain, a 15th-century country estate a 45-minute drive south of Paris, they had a change of heart. “There was a lot of land, and that’s where Shaun got the idea to do something very agricultural,” says Henry. “It spoke to him on many levels, both agriculturally and philosophically. [level]and the way we live on the planet.
Agriculture became the focus of their new concept, Le Doyenné, which ultimately took five years to come to fruition. In the process, the chiefs and their families moved to Saint-Vrain to live their agricultural dreams and escape city life. Then came the pandemic, which only confirmed that they were on the right track. Le Doyenné “was already Covid friendly, with open spaces and plenty of room to separate tables,” says Kelly.
In preparation for their farm, they planted the land with orchards and revived a vegetable garden that had lain dormant for 60 years, incorporating and experimenting with the ideas of early market gardening and sustainable agricultural techniques such as permaculture and regenerative agriculture. The farm has been supplying top Parisian restaurants, such as Le Chateaubriand and Mokonuts, since 2019. The new restaurant, which has just started taking reservations, is set to open on June 30 and the 11-room guesthouse will open later this summer. Chefs are betting that after a long period of travel restrictions, day trips or weekends away for farm-fresh produce will be welcomed.
The long road to creating the Doyenné, which shares its name with the property’s century-old Doyenné du Comice pear trees, involved obtaining permission to reinvent and restore the historic estate. The chefs worked with French architecture studios Ciguë and 1024, using local artisans to renovate the historic spaces, with their terracotta tiles, wooden beams and carved stone fireplaces. The chefs’ personal touches, such as antique finds, take their place in the refined interiors. A renovated greenhouse now grows over 100 varieties of heirloom vegetables and herbs.
In recent years, the French countryside has attracted Parisian chefs to open restaurants and retreats with vegetable gardens: in the Perche, the owners of the Parisian hot spot Septime took over the Auberge and restaurant D’une Île in 2018, while Former Saturne Chef Sven Chartier and his wife Marianne opened the restaurant Oiseau Oiseau in 2021. Located in Essonne, Le Doyenné is a joint venture between the chefs and their partner, Antoine de Mortemart, who leases the land and equipment to them. buildings to which was his family’s country home for more than two centuries. The castle, formerly the summer residence of the Comtesse du Barry, the last mistress of King Louis XV, is a stone’s throw from the former stables and staff quarters which now house Le Doyenné.
The guest house is designed to feel like the chefs are inviting diners into their country retreat, a home without minibars, TVs, and reception desks. Light-filled spaces feature only the essentials, from a rustic wooden stool to vintage reading chairs under old oak beams. A palette of ivory plaster and soft pink linens meet oak floors, while bathrooms are tiled with a wash of sea green, gray, and blue.
“The farm is on the doorstep of the restaurant. Guests are free to go out, walk around and see how things are going,” says Kelly, who plans to hold agriculture-related workshops in the future. For those wishing to make a longer stay, there is the nearby forest of Fontainebleau to explore, as well as the brocantes in the local villages.
The 40-seat restaurant will serve a seasonal menu that encourages community involvement. “There are moments of sharing and heartbreak with your dining partners,” says Henry. Mokonuts owners Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem, who have made several visits to the farm, anticipate a similar spirit on these outings. “We would go to the garden, find vegetables and create a sort of impromptu food feast together,” Koreitem recalls.
A summer dinner might start with Swiss chard and ricotta donuts called barbajuans, homemade charcuterie and farm vegetables are followed by a warm salad of peas, fresh sheep’s curd and aged sheep’s cheese. Next comes a grilled red mullet in a sauce made with its liver and artichokes, followed by a slice of free-range pork from the farm accompanied by a marinated walnut tapenade. A vegetable stew and herb salad refresh the palate before artisan cheeses, raw milk ice cream macerated in peach leaves and a fruit tart.
The chefs brought in Thibault Chauvet, who previously worked at the now closed Michelin-starred 108 restaurant in Copenhagen, as head sommelier and restaurant manager. Former Tartine chef baker in San Francisco, Lori Oyamada, runs the Doyenné Bakery, which supplies bread for the kitchen, guests and locals, who can also purchase farm-fresh produce from her grocery store. “It’s important to stay integrated into the community,” says Kelly. “If you produce food, it should also be available locally.”
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