A French chef dishes on Czech food and the Prague dining scene

Executive Chef Jean-Paul Georges Manzac brings a fresh new option to Prague's daily lunch offerings

The Corinthia Hotel — next to the Prague Congress Centre and Vyšehrad Metro station — is an unlikely place for lunch. Located in a ‘80s-era modernist highrise in Nusle its exterior hardly reflects the refined interiors of the 5-star hotel within.

But with the addition of a number of culinary innovations including a proper afternoon tea service and the debut, last month, of a new menu in The Grill restaurant, the Corinthia is shaping up to become a dining destination.

A French chef dishes on Czech food and the Prague dining scene
Corinthia Hotel

The Grill Restaurant is helmed by a veteran of the Prague culinary scene Executive Chef Jean-Paul Georges Manzac who local gourmands will remember from the Bib-Gourmand-awarded Brasserie M which later became the combined French bistro and butchers shop, La Boucherie & Bistrot M.

Manzac came to the Czech capital over 20 years ago working in the ill-equipped kitchens of a number of hotels and restaurants during the dark days of post-Soviet Czech gastronomy.

“[The restaurant scene] was non-existent. You had your basic Italian-Czech. The [country’s culinary legacy] was similar to that of these beautiful buildings that had been destroyed by communism,” he recalls. “There were traces but it was largely destroyed.”

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A French chef dishes on Czech food and the Prague dining scene
The Grill Restaurant at Corinthia Hotel Prague

Manzac, who was forced to quickly pick up a hybrid of Czech, English, and Spanish in order to communicate with his colleagues, says the young chefs he came into contact with lacked basic culinary skills:

“No one could open an oyster or prepare a Béarnaise; chefs had no technical skills,” he says. His experience as a kind of defacto mentor to a new generation of Czech chefs led to his helping found the Prague Culinary School.

“I think the early courses there had a big impact on the scene, lots of young talent came out of it including Zdenek Pohlreich, Roman Paulus, and David Radek.”

A French chef dishes on Czech food and the Prague dining scene
Mussels Marinieres

Though his years in the Czech Republic haven’t made him a convert to svíčková  and řízek, he appreciates the reclaiming of modern Czech cuisine that these chefs represent.

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“I like to leave Czech cooking to the Czechs themselves. But good goulash is like beef bourguignon. Or roasted duck is similar to duck confit — the techniques are the same and very good when done well.”

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While the chef has witnessed a sea change in the way Czechs enjoy and prepare food, he believes the industry is still suffering from a shortage of skilled kitchen workers. He also finds the Prague scene lacking when it comes to “good French food.”

A French chef dishes on Czech food and the Prague dining scene
Sea bass with strawberry sauce

That desire to recreate the feel of a brasserie very much informs the new menu of The Grill.

“I envisioned a proper restaurant lunch, simple tasting dishes at reasonable prices, something similar to a brasserie, with international touches not limited to French.”

The menu relies on local suppliers to produce French classics like beef bourguignon, roasted rabbit leg, and duck in orange sauce.

Vegetarians will welcome skilfully roasted eggplant and zucchini dishes with creative sides including a zingy carrot mash. Recently a Prague Ham paired perfectly with lentils for a lighter twist on a heavy Czech favorite.

A French chef dishes on Czech food and the Prague dining scene
Executive Chef Jean-Paul Georges Manzac

While Manzac may have helped kick-start the Prague culinary revolution he says his favorite place for a meal in the Czech capital still isn’t Czech or even French but Italian: Emanuele Ridi’s beloved-by-Bubeneč-locals Da Emanuel.

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A fitting choice as a place that’s synonymous with the kind of enduring cuisine for which both chefs are known.

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