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Lyon's gastronomic cutting edge

Renowned for its tradition of gastronomy, the French city now hosts a cutting edge research center.

Agnes Giboreau, director of research for the center, credits its ability to be innovative in part to its independence from other universities or national institutes. The center is also very young, having opened its doors less than two years ago.

Giboreau said students’ research must have a direct link with “real life,” that is, how people live and how they spend money. In fact, many researchers have relationships with corporations. Bayet-Robert’s research into a marketing model for gastronomy, for example, is funded in part by Relais & Chateaux, a France-based collection of luxury hotels and restaurants.

“Our main objective is to combine pleasure and health,” she said. “The center was born to help society eat healthfully through knowledge of the pleasure of eating.”

What the center also does is tip the scale toward innovation and forward-thinking, even within the very traditional context of a school dedicated to France’s classical culinary techniques. It is a pattern that is apparent throughout Lyon, both within its restaurants — especially its renowned bouchons, or casual restaurants that feature “grandmother-style” cooking — and within specialty shops ranging from chocolates to spices. They are all grounded in tradition, yet their contemporary experiments indicate an eagerness to stay current.

Palomas, a chocolate shop in rue Colonel Chambonnet, responded to the call for innovation by refashioning the generations-old dragees candies from almond-centered to chocolate-centered. Cheese shop Au Fil a Beurre persuades its customers to consider cheese as an appetizer (taken at the end of the meal in the French tradition) and to experiment with unusual pairings like Mimolette cheese with carrot jam, Comte with vanilla powder, Roquefort with pineapple and chevre with clementines.

But not every Lyonnais follows the innovation ethos. Jean-Louis Gelin, owner of Bouchon La Meuniere, believes that the traditional ways of cooking and new experiments can exist in the same city but not in the same restaurant or shop.

“What I love is to protect what exists, to protect the tradition,” Gelin said. “I do it for the young people.”