Cuisine Minceur was written as La Grande Cuisine Minceur by Michel Guérard, in 1976 and was translated and adapted by Caroline Conran, to become Michel Guérard’s Cuisine Minceur in 1977. Cuisine Minceur is a bestseller, with over a million copies sold.

Michel Guérard was born in Vétheuil in Val d’Oise, in March 1933. When he was six years old, WW2 broke out and he was sent to live with his grandmother, near Rouen. Later, after his father was drafted, Michel’s mother moved in with his grandmother and took over the butchery.

Originally, Michel Guérard had wished to study medicine, but his education was disrupted because of the war. Taught to cook by his mother and grandmother, Michel watched his grandmother make pastry and decided that he would like to be a chef pâtissier. In 1950, he became an apprentice pastry chef with Kléber Alix, in Mantes-les-Jolies, a small town, near Paris.

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By 1956, Michel Guérard was a pastry chef at Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. In 1958, at 25 years old, Guérard gained Meilleur Ouvrier de France Pâtisserie status. After a stint as head pastry chef at Lido, Guérard moved to other Parisien restaurants such as Lucas Carton, Maxim’s and La Pérouse.

Guérard’s first restaurant, Pot-au-feu, opened in 1965 in Asnières-sur- Seine, on the left bank of the Seine, some 8 km from central Paris. Two years after opening, it received a Michelin star, with a second one in 1971.

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Along with Paul Bocuse, Roger Vergé and the Troisgro brothers Jean and Pierre, Michel Guérard became a flag-bearer for French cuisine, between 1970 and 1972.

Besides Alain Chapel, Alain Senderens and Jean Delaveyne, Michel Guérard is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the movement which was the precursor, to Nouvelle Cuisine. The New York Times credited Guérard with “almost single-handledly inventing nouvelle cuisine “, in fact.

Nouvelle Cuisine is not a new term, it was used in the 18th century and also used in the 19th century, to describe the cooking of Auguste Escoffier.

Allegedly, Paul Bocuse claims that the term Nouvelle Cuisine, was used by restaurant critic Henri Gault, to describe the food prepared by Bocuse and others, for Concorde’s maiden flight in 1969.

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So, what is Nouvelle Cuisine ? It was supposed to be simpler, showing fresh ingredients off to the customer and not hiding them in heavy, floury sauces. Cooking times were reduced and steaming was used more. Marinades were used far less and regional French dishes were resurrected in a lighter, more modern way. Presentation was really important and chefs got more inventive, with ingredient pairings.

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It’s true to say, that beyond the realm of Michelin-starred French restaurants, Nouvelle Cuisine didn’t make much of an impact in the Seventies. In Britain, people were grappling with power cuts, fuel shortages, petrol rationing and later, entry into what was then known as the Common Market.

By the 1980s however, Nouvelle Cuisine was everywhere. Diners in lower price range restaurants balked at high prices for ‘postage stamp cuisine’ on octagonal plates and Nouvelle Cuisine died out – but not before Anton Mosimann produced a nouvelle cuisine cookbook for Sainsbury’s.

The legacy of Nouvelle Cuisine, has been more adventurous ingredient pairings and greater attention to presentation.

Without Nouvelle Cuisine, Cuisine Minceur wouldn’t have happened.

In 1972, Michel Guérard met Christine Barthélémy, daughter of the Biotherm brand founder, who was running one of her family’s spa resorts. Two years later, they were married and living in Eugénie-les-Bains, where they restored buildings to create France’s first ‘slimming village’.

Guérard created his Grande Cuisine Minceur in 1975, publishing the book in 1976 and getting the cover of TIME magazine in the USA. This neatly coincided with his Nestlé deal, in which he became an international consultant for the brands Findus, Maggi, Chambourcy, Sopad, Gervais, Buitoni and La Laitière. Chef Guérard developed the Findus-Guérard and Findus Cuisine Légère (Lean Cuisine) ranges. This collaboration lasted 27 years.

His restaurant, Les Prés d’Eugénie, won its first Michelin star in 1974, second in 1975 and third in 1977 – and remarkably, has kept three stars since then.
Les Prés d’Eugénie ***** – SITE OFFICIEL – Landes – FRANCE

Since the Seventies, the Guérards have restored a château, created two more hotels, another two restaurants and a vineyard which produces more than 48,000 bottles of wine annually. The family now owns 21 spas and employs over 2000 people.

From 2004, Chef Guérard has been working to make ‘thermal medicine’ more mainstream. He developed a therapeutic patient education programme for diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, which he presented to the French Ministry of Health.

As a result, Professor Hercberg (President, PNNS) and Professor Basdevant (President of the French national obesity plan) invited him to speak, at a colloquium for the finalisation of the French National Health Nutrition Plan 2011-2015, in 2010.

Michel Guérard suggested the idea of a health cooking school to the French Ministry of Health in 2009 and a steering committee was created, which Guérard heads. Currently, a White Paper, ‘Cooking, Health and Pleasure’ is being edited.

Guérard opened a cookery school for hobby chefs and in 2013, a cookery school, for professional cooks also.

In 2014 his seventh cookbook, Eat Well and Stay Slim was published. This has been ordered for review.

From 2008-2009 University of Bordeaux II carried out a pilot study, which showed that 75% of the patients who had been through the patient education programme and who were practising Cuisine de Santé were still seeing a 75% improvement to their metabolic health, a year later.

Michel Guérard has no fewer than four Chevalier honours, including the Legion of Honour.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

Michel Guérard states that readers shouldn’t dip in and out of the book, but do a week, two weeks, even ten weeks of Cuisine Minceur, annually.

Although Caroline Conran has attempted to adapt the recipes for the home cook, it’s not a cookbook that lends itself to supermarket shopping. Even before Brexit, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Tesco, Morrisons and even Waitrose, just don’t stock, for example, hares, thrushes, lobsters, veal chops, Sevruga caviar, pigeons, frogs’ legs and seaweed.

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Generally, home cooks don’t have time to make stock from scratch every day. However, in one kitchen I worked in, we would make batches of stock and freeze them in ice cream tub size containers. When we needed stock, we would use an ice cream scoop. If you can batch cook stocks, there are some decent recipes. Being a famous and wealthy French chef, Guérard does tend to make them with wine, however.

Alternatively just buy fresh stock from the supermarket. The pots and bags can generally be frozen

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There are seven liaisons (not dangereuses) in the book, which are useful for a low carber wanting sauces. In his introduction, Chef Guérard notes that Cuisine Minceur doesn’t use flour, yet there’s a recipe for a white roux sauce. This might be the work of Caroline Conran. Mayonnaise has a further five low carb variants.

Béarnaise sauce is a low carb classic and again, seven low carb variations are given. The sauce contains 5 egg yolks and 300g of unsalted butter or ghee or double (heavy) or whipping cream. There are two methods of producing beurre blanc as well.

More sauces can be made for those on dirty low carb, using ingredients such as soy sauce and tomato ketchup.

Sauce Créosat, a clean sauce featuring cucumber, green pimento, onion, tomato, gherkins and capers, seems a fresher sauce for steak, in summer. There are a couple of tomato sauces, butter sauce, artichoke sauce, asparagus sauce, wild mushroom sauce, parsley sauce and a red wine sabayon sauce.

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The use of skimmed milk powder and water in recipes, seems ludicrous, next to crème fraîche and fromage blanc, which don’t specify fat-reduced versions. It will be necessary to tweak recipes to ditch the skimmed milk powder and water combo. You might want to increase the amount of dairy in a recipe for example, or try whole milk.

Soup recipes include: Light consommé with fresh garden vegetables, fresh tomato soup with pounded basil, foamy cream of sorrel soup and velouté of wood mushrooms.

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First course recipes include baked eggs, artichokes Mélanie, aubergine ‘caviar’ (omit peanut oil or sub), gâteau of green vegetables, asparagus gâteau and sweet onion tart, which is pastryless. Another pastryless dish is called fresh tomato tarts with thyme.

Many of these recipes are vegetarian so ideal when veggie friends are round for lunch. Fresh tomato soufflé however, contains gelatine, as does potted salmon with lemon and green peppercorns. Now that sea bass is farmed in Greece and Turkey, hot terrine of sea-bass with asparagus tips won’t be as expensive as it once was. Wild sea bass should be available from fishmongers.

Salads all seem to rely on exotic ingredients and/or seafood.

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If you love seafood, there’s a whole section featuring oysters, lobster, salmon, trout, whiting, plaice, sea bream, rascasse (gurnard), John Dory, bass and turbot.

Rascasse (gurnard) Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

There are three steak recipes, as well as beef stew with baby vegetables, four veal recipes, leg of lamb cooked in hay, plus low carb recipes for pigeon, duck breasts, and rabbit. Potentially some of the other game recipes are tweakable.

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There are quite a few vegetable purées eg onion, mushroom, globe artichoke, sorrel and watercress, French beans, cauliflower, leek, celeriac and parsley, pear and spinach (15.2g carbs for the recipe, divide by four people).They can be used as sauces over or under other veg or mains and are ingredients in some of the recipes.

Michel Guérard includes his Tante Louises’s stuffed onions and his mother’s vegetable stew, leeks simmered with wild mint, ratatouille Niçoise and a rather good confit bayaldi which we made on holiday, self-catering in Brittany.

If you are happy to use a lot of sweeteners, ther’s a whole section on desserts. We prefer something like HESTON BLUMENTHAL’S TWO INGREDIENT CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Reasons to buy: cheap secondhand book with charming illustrations, a bit of a classic, lots of vegetable and vegetarian dishes. Game recipes too if that’s your thing – it’s easy enough to find game in farm shops and butchers in season or online. Reasons not to buy: having to tweak any recipe containing skimmed milk and water.
BUY if you can get it for under a tenner.

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