Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros

93 year-old documentarian Frederick Wiseman has wanted to focus on a three star Michelin restaurant since he was a student in France in the 1950’s.  He grabbed the opportunity to ask if he could make a documentary while dining at one recently and has now gifted us with “Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros.”

Laura's Review: A-

After having established itself as a fine dining destination in Roanne, Les Troisgros moved about a 10 minute drive away, reopening in what had once been a country home in 2017, something we learn from Chef/owner Michel as he talks to diners in the film’s closing moments.  Les Troisgros, a family owned business for three generations that has been awarded three Michelin stars for 55 years, has moved to more of a farm to table approach as the family now operates its own vegetable gardens and forges relationships with local farmers, cheese makers and the like.

This is a classic Wiseman documentary, his fly on the wall approach leaving us to fill in the blanks and come to our own conclusions, so it is only after we learn about this move that we can guess the city hotel across from the railroad station where the film begins must be Les Troisgros’s original location.  That’s where the chefs gather after a visit to a local farmer’s market, one where such specialties as wild watercress are put aside for them.  Sitting in the dim, empty dining room, the men discuss the availability of freshwater fish.

Back in the restaurant’s large kitchen, father Michel and son Cesar think seasonally in regards to what to pair with asparagus as an appetizer and how to go about it, balancing the number of expected servings against the labor involved in preparing them.  Wiseman occasionally cuts away to one of his carefully cut establishing montages, visions of an idyllic countryside appearing and disappearing to a very particular beat.  He’ll leave conversations to linger on a chef’s careful preparation, one stripping racks of lamb just so, another coating boiled eggs, yet another chopping herbs.  Out in the main dining room, where all glass walls let the outdoors in, white gloved servers set tables just so.  A discussion on upcoming reservations makes us privy to pre-committed orders of 5K Euro bottles of wine.  A woman at a console desk in a lobby takes reservations for both the restaurant’s inn, where the smallest room with a shower is over 300 Euro, and its restaurant, offering the alternate, nearby country inn and its (non-Michelin) restaurant run by son Leo for those unable to obtain them (Wiseman doesn’t visit this other establishment).

We also accompany the chefs on tours of local establishments where we learn how one man sustainably raises cattle, how a goat farmer raises kids to produce milk, and perhaps most surprising of all, the labor intensive work that goes on at a cheese ripening company.  But it is back at Les Troisgros where our eyes are opened to the level of detail that goes into three star Michelin dining, from a vast wine cellar needing continual management to familiarity with the needs – and quirks – of clients.

Don’t expect to see a meal prepared from start to finish as Wiseman isn’t trying to make a cooking show here, instead up to his usual agenda of documenting the workings of an establishment from soup to nuts and it’s mighty satisfying indeed.  “Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros” is at turns calming, exciting, serious and funny.  It even features a very surprising twist ending in its closing credits, one worthy of its own sequel.

Robin's Review: B+

If you have wondered about “everything you wanted to know about a French, 3-star Michelin restaurant but were afraid to ask,” well, you do not have to ask. Instead, you would do your foodie sensibility a big favor by watching Frederick Wiseman’s four-hour examination of “Menu-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros.”
The prolific filmmaker’ copious works are readily recognizable and “Menus-Plaisirs” is no exception. Here, with little fanfare, we are dropped into the culinary world of the Troisgros family in Roanne, France. The business has been around since the 1930s and was awarded a its first Michelin star in 1955, its second in 1965 and a third in 1968 and has been a continuous 3-star restaurant ever since.

Wiseman’s roving cameras capture all of the aspects of running a prestigious Michelin-rated restaurant where a meal costs 395 Euros (550 Euros if pairing with wine). If you ever had questions on how a top-rated restaurant works, you will likely find most of, if not all, of your questions answered.

To me, Frederick Wiseman movies are like a fine wine and I appreciate the complexity and detailed look of the various institutions he has selected for his roving camera to examine. His style of cinema verite is to capture his subjects as they live their day to day lives. Here we see the Troisgros family as they are followed through on every aspect of fine dining and lodging.

Be aware that director Wiseman likes to tell his story in a gentle, flowing way and, like “Les Troisgros,” they are long and thorough. I enjoyed the personal attention chef Michel, his wife Marie-Pierre and one of his sons, Cesar, pay to their affluent customers. What each likes or wants is catered to and what is not is carefully removed from the dish. It reminded me of a special dinner we once had at the famous Taillevent restaurant in Paris many years ago – they made us feel special. That is what Les Troisgros is like, making me want to go there one day. I wonder if I will?

Zipporah Films released "Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros" in New York on 11/22/23.  The release will continue to expand into 2024.