Alain Fontaine, bistrotier and bon vivant who operates in the beating heart of Paris, honored AAPA with a meeting on June 25.

Besides his toque, Fontaine wears two other hats: he is president of the Association Française des Maîtres Restaurateurs — essentially chefs who insist on preparing all meals on site from fresh, raw ingredients — and he is spearheading a drive to win UNESCO recognition of the French bistro and café as intangible cultural heritage.

So who better to discuss the terrible blow his sector suffered during the coronavirus lockdown and its hopes and fears for the future? Bistros and cafes were in steady and alarming decline before the pandemic — dropping from 200,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to a little over 50,000 after World War II to 25,000 today — and Fontaine held out little hope for a miraculous turnaround.

But the ebullient chef dismissed dire predictions that up to 40 percent of the businesses would not survive the crisis, saying many would simply change hands, for better or worse. Even if the numbers continue to dwindle, Fontaine is sanguine about the bistro’s longevity, as an “anchor” of France’s art de vivre.–
-Gina Doggett