You personally create all of the floral arrangements for which the restaurant is so admired. How do you decide what to do each week?
I mark the seasons. I appreciate revisiting December with my dear friend the anemones, or May with the peonies or July and August with the garden roses. When we get the first twigs of wild local lilac [in spring] it's a moment of exhilaration.
What's on display now?
Forsythia, along with tulips—that means it's the pre-advent of spring. The flowers and the food are all part of the same garden in a sense; it's very spiritual, having a culture of understanding when it is time to eat what. I like delphinium, but not in January. Just like flying [an ingredient] in from New Zealand just to say you have it—that doesn't impress me at all.
A lot of restaurants do that though, and boast about it.
Yes, but we've never really been in that stream of fads, of what's hot and what's not. Because if you do that, it's a dog and pony show; it's what's your next trick? These chefs, they get so involved in their ego, or they have a chance to be a celebrity on TV, and their restaurant doesn't do well because they forgot the most important ingredient in the restaurant: the customer.
How has La Grenouille's menu changed through the years?
Back in the days when my father and mother opened the restaurant food was a lot richer. But my father always believed in having, in addition to the classic rich dishes, some very simple dishes like our grilled sole, which remains one of the most popular things on the menu. He was a modern thinker, and by modern I mean not of today but of the moment. Being of the moment means being classic and timeless. Something that never ages poorly, that's always in the right place at the right time, is by essence modern.
La Grenouille, 3 East 52nd Street, NYC. 212.752.1495