August 3, 2010 / 11:30 AM / 7 years ago

Loiseau sees future in traditional haute cuisine

PARIS, Aug 3 (Reuters Life) - Even its three-star Michelin badge could not protect Bernard Loiseau during the crisis that racked the French restaurant industry in 2009.

That year, the restaurants company posted a record loss of nearly half a million euros amid declining sales.

Nonetheless, Loiseau is investing heavily to maintain the quality on which its reputation depends and seek profits for a company that is not currently breaking even.

"We're talking about a three star restaurant," said CEO Dominique Loiseau. "The investments we're making are for the future".

Dominique Loiseau is unfazed by recent events and is committed to a growth strategy based on consolidating revenue and burnishing the reputation of the company's namesake restaurant in Burgundy. In any case, she has faced down much tougher situations before.

After the tragic death of her celebrity chef husband in 2003, Loiseau took over his establishment and preserved its hard won three stars. Since then, she has helped the company's two Paris-based restaurants continue to flourish and opened a new venue in Burgundy which earned a Michelin star this year.

Since her late husband took the company public in 1998, Bernard Loiseau remains the only haute cuisine institution traded on the stock exchange. Her family are majority shareholders in the enterprise whose current market cap is around 7 million euros ($9.05 million).

Two years ago, the mother of three received a Legion d'Honneur award and praise from the French President.

Today, she is regarding the seventh anniversary of her husband's death as a symbolic turning point. From here on, she will regard her work no longer as a commemoration to her husband but as a project for her and her children.

Still, daunting challenges remain. These include operational ones like paying the high staff and infrastructure costs required to remain in the very top rung of restaurants.

More serious, perhaps, are the challenges posed by shifts in culinary culture.

Today, even the French have come to forsake three hour business lunches and companies will no longer pay lavish restaurant chits. Innovative chefs from around the world are preparing dishes that challenge France's once unquestioned gastronomic dominance.

Loiseau is well aware of these changes but sees them as an opportunity. She invests in her three-star establishment and its surrounding hotel, believing its cachet will draw clients who seek a distinct and classic culinary experience.

This approach may be a risky one as the three star Burgundy establishment has lately been subsidized by the two Paris restaurants which were profitable even in 2009.

Overall, though, Loiseau is convinced that three stars are integral to the company's success and that investments to preserve them are essential.

As for challenges to French gastronomy, Loiseau believes her country will remain in front because newer culinary venues have yet to offer in one place every element of fine dining -- from wine to cheese to service to top ingredients. She is also encouraged by a new generation of French chefs who have shaken off a "stuffiness" that prevailed 20 years ago.

Her advice to young chefs who aspire to the status of her late husband is that it is essential as never before to master every element of the business, both inside the kitchen and out.

Great chefs of the future will have to be as proficient in business and marketing as they are at pastry.

"There are so many things," Loiseau told Reuters. "It's like a mayonnaise. You need a lot of ingredients and all of them have to be at the right temperature. If one ingredient is not at the right temperature, the mayonnaise will not come together."

Reporting by Jeff Roberts, Editing by Paul Casciato

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