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Restaurant "Alain Chapel", Mionnay, France
CLOSED Sadly.

Even though the restaurant and hotel closed in 2012, we are keeping our last story up in tribute to this innovative and brilliant chefs, one of the father's of "Nouvelle Cuisine".

Peter and Linda D'Aprix 2006



There are times today when we struggle through dishes created out of mismatched and battling tastes produced by young chefs trying too hard to be original. At these times, we yearn for the superbly balanced and innovative tastes of the masters who first developed what food writers Gault and Millau abbreviated to "Nouvelle Cuisine" which received a bad rap at the time. It was, in fact, just a transitional fulcrum from one approach of French cuisine to another; one that threw out the old restrictions and gave vent to the latent creativity of fine young chefs to explore taste combinations, preparation techniques using products from around the country, even around the world and adding a visual appeal, sometimes making the plate a graphic work of art.

Alain Chapel was one of the founders of this cuisine and you can still eat it in his charming country restaurant just a little north of Lyon, in the village on Mionnay.
It is a real delight to actually be able to step back in time to the golden age of a particular type of cuisine that still lives in all its glory today. You can go to this "temple" to the cuisine of Alain Chapel at his restaurant just north of Lyon; a restaurant founded by his parents and that may well be continued by his son, Romain Chapel (now 22), who is in training in the kitchens under the masterful hand of Executive Chef Philippe Jousse.

Strangely enough, most of their guests are not from Lyons. The Lyonnaise, aparently, like their traditional cuisine. The cuisine of Alain Chapel, despite his being a son of Lyons, is entirely different.

Lamb

Roasted rack of lamb with chopped pistachios.
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Chef Philippe Jousse

Chef Philippe Jousse in his kitchen.
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Kitchen of Alain Chapel

Kitchen of Alain Chapel with Chef Philippe Jousse at work to right.
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Corner of blue dining room

Corner detail of blue dining room.

Main dining room

Main dining room looking through to the 2nd dining room with fireplace.
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Mme. Suzanne Chapel

Suzanne Chapel.

Chef Philippe Jousse is faithfully producing the recipes of his mentor Alain Chapel. He develops the menu into a mix of Chapel classics and more modern dishes that adhere to the foundations of Chapel cuisine. By definition, this means that the style of cuisine, while masterfully prepared and presented, tends to be locked in time rather than on the modern cutting edge. And that is precisely what recommends it. It is great cuisine served in an atmosphere of old world "relais" charm in intimate dining areas by gracious serving teams. If your appetites have been assaulted by too much misplaced "fusion", battered by odd parings of feuding tastes, take a trip to Alain Chapel.

We well remember our first visit to the Chapel dining room back in 1987. It was stinking hot, so we ate outside in the charming inner garden with its pond and a weeping willow. The maître d'hôtel turned out to have previously worked at the "Waterside Inn" in Santa Barbara so we had a great gossip. The food was marvelous. So it was interesting to return almost 20 years later to find little changed, except for private garage parking (much needed), a "boutique" and a highway that growled with gigantic articulated trucks around the clock. Strange that last because the Auto Route has been enlarged with quite adequate feeder routes to carry the truck traffic, but they seem to like to practice their gear changes all night on the small route through Mionnay.

So here you can re-experience classic modern cuisine that was revolutionary in its day. You can also stay the night in the three star rooms at the back of the establishment. But if you sleep lightly, just know that while they are pleasantly appointed and the beds comfortable, you may not get much sleep if your windows face the road and the truck traffic
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Filet Rouget

Filet de Rouget (Red mullet) with fennel seeds.
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Sitting area "mini lounge"

Reception area with "mini lounge".
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Poached eggs with morels

Œufs Poché (poached egg) on morels with asparagus.
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Dessert

Strawberries marinated with lemon vinegar.
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Fish choice

Sitting area "mini lounge".
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Madame Suzanne Chapel, Alain's widow, is still vibrant, young and full of energy. She gives full rein to chef Jousse to do what he wants as long as he produces at least half the menu as Alain Chapel's classics. Since we well remembered our meal when Chapel was still alive and a major figure in the French culinary world, we elected to try the dishes from the imagination of Chef Jousse. They were clean, unpretentious and delicious; the smooth harmony of flavors we prefer.

Our meal started with a Madeline of Parmesan paired with Croquante of layered tomatoes and olive paste served with delicious fresh from the oven bread rolls. This was followed by a cream of white bean (haricots blancs) soup. Linda then had an excellent roast pigeon served with perfectly done baby spring vegetables. Meanwhile I tucked into a classic pairing of poached eggs (brought in from afar since the only cases of bird flu were found nearby!) and morels with new spring asparagus and large shrimp.

Linda continued with fish which in this case was a plate of Filet de Rouget (Red mullet) with fennel seeds, served on a slowly cooked potatoes and tomato chutney. I had the Roasted rack of lamb with chopped pistachios, snow peas and fresh garlic, a juice with flavoured olive oil. Nothing to set the world on fire, but most satisfying with whisps of interest to raise it above most lamb dishes. As is the custom today (bless them!), the French serve a pre-dessert. Ours was a meringue with home made vanilla ice cream with finger goodies on the side.

Alain Chapel with canine friend

Alain Chapel with canine friend.
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"blue" dining room

The intimate "blue" dining room.
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Hallway

Hallway detail.


Main wood panelled lounge

Main wood panelled lounge.
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private end of dining room

Private end of dining room.
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Gift shot "Boutique"

Gift shot "Boutique".
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The full dessert was an interesting layered concoction in a large glass consisting of levels of different chocolate combinations, some light, some dark, some with coffee, some not, one layer was frozen coffee, then a chocolate mousse all topped with Chantilly and some crunchies. A classic of Chapel. It tasted better than it looked. Linda enjoyed a fine and refreshing dish of sorbets (Passion fruit, Mango and a very novel milk and caramel) surround with beautifully carved and presented fresh fruit at the peak of ripeness.

It was an excellent meal. We were glad we were early in the season, however, because the weather was cool. There was no air conditioning in the restaurant so in hot weather it would become an oven not to mention that the cigarette and cigar smoke was over powering despite the no smoking policy of the house. But now we hear that the government is banning smoking from all restaurants and cafés. So that may no longer be a problem - that is if it is ever enforced.

Outside windows of main dining room

Outside windows of main dining room facing street.

garden

Inner garden and pond.

bedroom

A typical bedroom.
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Chapel Parents

M. Roger Chapel and his wife Eva (parents of Alain Chapel) in 1939.
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Exterior view today

Exterior view of Alain Chapel Restaurant which is a linked collection of disparate buildings as they are today.
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Post card

Exterior view of what become Alain Chapel Restaurant which is a linked collection of disparate buildings. This was probably around the 1900 long before it was a restaurant.
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Chez La Mere Charles

The street side view circa 1946 when Roger Chapel (Alain's father) bought the old "Café Restaurant Chez La Mère Charles".
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So all of this leads to the realization that Nouvelle Cuisine gave birth to a cuisine that never stands still, is constantly re-inventing itself. This also means that it is hard to find your favorite dishes from one year to the next, although it keeps the palate from becoming bored and jaded; at least less so. On the other hand, one of the delights of Restaurant Alain Chapel is to re-experience the foundation on which today's cuisine is based, the culinary break through that allowed the explosion of unbounded inventiveness that we can enjoy today.

So if you are young enough not to have lived through the short starburst of Nouvelle Cuisine , make a trip to Alain Chapel, have the waiter tell you which dishes are from the hand of the master (they are not identified on the menu). If you want a trip down memory lane, you will not be disappointed.



Restaurant Alain Chapel
Route nationale 83
01390 Mionnay (Ain)
France

How To Get There:

Driving:

Take the A 46 beltway — exit n°3 Villars-les-Dombes, N 83.

MIchelin on line map service Map

By plane

Airport Lyon St-Exupéry (Intl) 25 km

 By train 

Lyon Part-Dieu 20 km served by high speed TGV trains

 By taxi

 We are at your disposal to organize your transfert from your arrival place to the hotel.
From Marseille Provence Airport (100 € for two pers. + luggages)*

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All rights reserved peter d'aprix ©1985-2012.
No copying, reuse or partial reproduction permitted without written permission by the authors, Peter and Linda D'Aprix.

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