GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Le Chef officially opens to the public this week, on the third floor of Genève Aéroport, completing a series of moves in recent years to make the airport’s eateries match changing needs of travelers.
Good news for locals: this is a great addition to Geneva’s restaurants, and you can eat here without a boarding pass.
Nor do you have to eat here; the lounge with its books and the bar and the bleachers where kids and grownups alike can watch planes take off and land, are nice spaces.
But food is at the heart of it, as the name suggests.
The food: contemporary, chic, with a splash of fun
Here’s what I ate yesterday at the press conference and sampling session, along with a taste of white wine, Aligoté, and a glass of the red, Pinot Noir, both from Geneva. Plus a few more pastries that arrived at the end and two espressos to get me back on the road.
The food is resolutely contemporary and as international as those little stickers people used to put on their steam trunks to advertise their firsthand knowledge of the world’s riches. Been there, tried that, brought home a souvenir.
Some of it I loved, especially the smoked wapiti tartare, little strips that are not like beef, as I’d expected. Wapiti is bison or elk, depending on your source of information, which I find quite confusing since they are not the same creature – in this case, you’ve probably seen the animals (bison to me) grazing on the prairie as you approach the airport on the A1, from Lausanne.
I was less keen on the bright green herb-wrapped egg, but another guest and I agreed that we’re people who like our eggs cooked so hard they bounce off the walls, so I’m no judge of soft-boiled excellence.
The shredded lamb hamburger was less exotic than bison and very pleasing.
The emphasis is on terroir and on seasonal food, with Luzuy saying “terroir is our playground”, so local suppliers are used as much as possible. Expect four menus a year. The menus feature four approaches to cooking: raw and marinated, steamed, over the fire (naked flame) and slow cooked.
Luzuy told us that while you’ll find an international approach in the food, the influence is really in the small touches” and that he expects international clients “to have the curiosity to discover Swiss food” and not just look for familiar foods from home. Swiss foods are adapted for the international, curious diner.
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Prices: expect to pay anywhere from CHF50-100 for your meal depending on how many dishes you order, à la carte CHF14-52. Lunch menu: CHF55. Bar food is less, with a good variety of single dishes. The coffee menu gives you several options for CHF5-7 and breakfast is a matter of large or small, Swiss or other.
A restaurant to match today’s airport
Some people will miss the white table linens and classic meals of Altitude, which closed in January to make way for Le Chef. But the new restaurant is fun, the food is classy, the wine selection is a good mix of international and Swiss, with a wine list that doesn’t overwhelm.
The third-floor view over the tarmac is great for anyone who loves airplanes (me!). The decor is comfortable, with open spaces and much use of wood, especially walnut with slate, which helps absorb the sound. 1960s Scandinavian-style furniture works well here. Le Chef describes its look as “loft spirit … neo-industrial style” and a penthouse feeling.
However you label it, it’s a good fit for a busy airport popular with low-cost skiers and hikers, who aren’t necessarily too poor to eat well, plenty of first and business class fliers and private jet passengers.
Then there is the bustling local business community, some of whom have been testing the restaurant for a couple of weeks, and the Swiss-based international crowd who might be in Beijing one week, Malaga the next and Chicago two weeks later and heading for Milan and Tuscany after that (I plead guilty).
Eating downstairs at the airport
Le Chef completes the food offer – the food courts above the check-in area, the cafés and tea boutique and quick sandwiches at the arrivals level, have in the past couple of years all become part of the Geneva traveler’s itinerary.
When I came back from Beijing last week, at 08:35 after an all-night flight, I had to wait for my train home – 10 minutes for my suitcase, then 20 minutes for a good renversé coffee and a pain au chocolat at Martel that put me on the right track again. In under an hour after the plane parked I was on a Swiss train heading towards Lausanne, bag in hand.
It’s a great little airport.
But Le Chef adds a new and much-needed dimension to what we used to call Cointrin, and what I think of as GVA: a place to meet for a meal or to pause en route, and enjoy the experience. The mandate for a new restaurant was given to Autogrill, a company that started with restaurants on the Italian autoroutes, graduated to train stations and which, since 2012, has been creating good restaurants in airports.
The company rehired 80% of the staff from Altitude.
Who exactly is this Chef
The marketing people have put the emphasis on what the Tribune de Genève last fall called the “hyperactive” not quite 30-year-old chef, Benjamin Luzuy, who owns several food-related businesses in Geneva, including le Café des Voisins in Plainpalais and Gourmet Brothers. He’s completely charming, the golden boy entrepreneur people dream of becoming, enough of a clown to be a photographer’s delight and to film a short TV series on restaurants in Swiss cities two years ago – see the Coop magazine interview with him.
He’s a dynamo of an entrepreneur who works non-stop, and he knows a great deal about good food, even if he hasn’t followed the path of famous chefs and went to hotel school in Lausanne instead.
Stints with uber-chef Philippe Chevrier in Geneva and others plus two months at Noma in Copenhagen rounded out his experience.
One of my favourite pre-opening photos of him is le chef in his toque, sitting like a happy buddha on a suitcase carousel, going round with the bags.
At the press lunch Wednesday he insisted that while he is happy to go along with the celebrity chef image being built around him, the new restaurant is really very much a matter of teamwork. I asked him at the end how he can keep managing all of this – a matter of some good training, of loving what he does? That helps, but “Be surrounded by really good people” was his prompt answer.
Le Chef details
Opening hours: 07:00-22:00 daily.
Access: by elevator from departures and arrivals, with lifts located at the P51 end (left side as you face the airport entrance) of the building.
110 seats; 6 conference rooms and a terrace open to all clients.