Joël Robuchon, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy… In today’s era of fine dining, where chefs helm not only the kitchen but have their own eponymous establishments, La Tour d’Argent is one of a few top-tier restaurants that cherishes the traditional role of restaurateur. André Terrail is the third-generation Terrail owner of a restaurant that is considered a French gourmet institution.
Like La Tour d’Argent, Terrail himself is a blend of old and new. Young as he may be, with a digital savvy like any other 21st century Parisian, Terrail exudes an old-fashioned elegance; graceful mannerisms and the fine taste of a gentleman, leaving him to admit: “Sometimes, I think I was born in the wrong era.” Hospitality is in his blood, partly through being under the tutelage of his father, Claude Terrail.
In the age of chef-owners, what is the role of a restaurateur and is his presence necessary?
To welcome, as defined by Brillat-Savarin, is “to be in charge of your guest’s pleasure for as long as he is under your roof”. This is my role. With today’s shifting tastes, customers are more curious and aware, but above all, much more frivolous. This is a challenge for us! At the same time, especially in France and Europe, customers look for reassurance — their roots in a sense — so being welcomed by the third-generation owner and seeing that some things never change is very comforting. And many customers have been visiting us generation after generation. This is exceptional and such customers deserve to be welcomed by the owner.
Why is modernisation important in a restaurant built on history?
Our history is our base; it’s a starting point and it legitimises what we do, but it can also slow us down. So my job is to make sure that our traditions and history are not a drag. Sometimes, my staff actually push them aside on purpose in order to understand the needs and wants of customers today.
Is your vision of the future of the business different from your father's?
Yes, thankfully! I think his vision of the business was different from his own father’s as well; the new generation always brings something new. The whole challenge is to try and identify what is good tradition, which we should maintain, respect and nurture, versus what is bad, rotting, dangerous tradition. The changes planned for the next five years at La Tour d’Argent will be very exciting. But we won’t make them all right away — just step by step.
What would you personally recommend to visitors besides the duck?
It’s important for the first-time visitor to experience our classics, so they get a peek at our history. The second-time visitor should then try our more modern dishes by chef Laurent Delarbre. My favourite dish is the salmon tournedos 'Tarja', created in honour of my mother who is Finnish. The dish is so light and fresh, like you’re eating in Finland. It is also a nice testament to the fact that we can be very classic, very 'Tour d’Argent', and still travel around the world.