Lyon chef Chris Leahy Dishes on Bouchons and Lyonnaise Cuisine

With Bastille Day just around the corner, it's as good a time as any to make a trip to Lyon. Can't afford the ticket to France? Good thing there's a Lyon right here in the West Village. We called up chef Chris Leahy to learn more about Lyonnaise cuisine and why Gordon Ramsay isn't actually a nightmare in the kitchen.

What exactly is a bouchon?

In Lyon, the bouchon represents the workingman's restaurant. It represents the food and the region. Generally it's not expensive or features out-of-the ordinary ingredients. You'll find stuff like someone's family would have made throughout the ages, like tripe, sausages, charcuterie work, and they have traditional salads at their peak of seasonality.

Lyon is a "bouchon moderne." What does that mean?

We're using more items that are located in the New York City region and from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York State, and we change the menu seasonally. We'll do modern interpretations of classic dishes. In Lyon, you get tripe and it's the whole tripe, and so we're making it more for the modern palate.

What's the ideal meal to eat at Lyon?

I'd share the charcuterie platter. We make everything other than the bread here, and the platter is unique to us. That would be for the table. Then get the Lyonnaise salad and the snails with morels and sweetbreads. For entrées, probably the skate, which is a real classic dish, or the tripe. And for dessert, the apple tart or the praline chocolate mousse. In Lyon, praline is the number-one nut in the whole city. They have pink pralines. We've made a twist on that and made a mousse out of them.

Pink pralines?

Yeah, they roast them and toss with a caramel sugar that's dyed pink. When we were in the market you'd see these crazy bright-pink pralines. I don't know why, but it's one of those classic Lyon dishes.   And what distinguishes good charcuterie from bad?

I like moisture in the charcuterie, so it needs to have some moistness because you're eating it cold. And it has to be seasoned well, because you're eating it cold so it'll lack some of the normal flavor. We make our own pickles so I look for accoutrements. I look for freshness.

What do you love about French food?

I believe that French food is the basis of all cuisines. French, Italy, Spain -- they all base each other off themselves. A lot of American techniques are based on that. Nouvelle cuisine was about lightening up ingredients. And New York chefs doing it. You can study Asian cuisine or European cuisine and that'll revolve around France. The thing that's most interesting about Lyon is that it's geographically similar to Manhattan; it has two rivers, and is two hours by train to Paris and two hours to the ocean. It's very similar to us with its access -- you can have great river fish and wines and produce.

Who have been some of your culinary mentors?

All the chefs I've worked for were French. Pierre Chambrin sent me to New York to work for Daniel Boulud and I was there for the opening of DB Bistro Moderne. Then I went to Europe and worked for Gordon Ramsay and I staged at Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons and Le Gavroche and Moro and came back here and worked for Floyd Cardoz. I made the rounds under people who were all classically trained, and they showed me how to make traditional cuisine.

Gordon Ramsay, huh. Does he yell a lot in the kitchen, or is that just for show?

If you have the ability to do your job well, he'll leave you alone. The people who get yelled at on TV are doing things wrong. Like, for me, I only get upset when people do something bad.

Check back in tomorrow, when Chris reveals his most reviled food-TV personality!

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