From Toll House cookies to key lime pie, baked goods are among the foods Americans do best. And yet there’s still something stomachache-inducing about the thought of devouring a hefty slice of pecan turtle cheesecake at the end of a three-course French meal. So I was surprised to read in a French magazine that a New York pastry chef, Alison Johnson, had crossed the Atlantic to work at the one-star restaurant Jean. It seemed to me that hiring an American pastry chef in Paris was like recruiting Australians to fight bulls in Madrid.

“Taillev-…uh, Jean,” answered Jean-Frédéric Guidoni when I called the restaurant to find out more. He had worked 20 years (mostly as first maître d’hôtel) at one of the world’s great restaurants, Taillevent, before striking off on his own and buying Jean nearly seven years ago. I… More…