Provence is a region of France that has been the most romanticized in travel literature and it is where most local and international tourists flock to for the moderate climate, the scenic Mediterranean coast, the museums and history, Cannes film festival, easy access to Monaco, and the food and wine. There are many talented chefs and well known restaurants in the area using the exceptional products of the region to offer a distinctive cuisine. The Provençal style with influences from Italy, Spain and northern Africa is well appreciated and emulated by chefs around the world.
It takes multiple visits over an extended period of time to get to know the area. I say multiple visits because once you have been there you will definitely go back. This area has been popular with expats, artists, and writers as is evident in many of their works. Provence is also where the wealthy from all over the world own vacation homes, real estate is expensive, as is the third wealthiest region in all of France. There are hotels ranging from the luxury brands to B&B’s offering accommodation and excellent restaurants serving the best of the regional produce. When asked for suggestions I always mention two villages perched in the hills that are not to be missed, Ezze and the artsy St Paul de Vence an easy drive from anywhere in the region. The perfume factories and fields of Grasse are also within driving distance as are the beaches of Nice, Saint Tropez with a lineup of luxury yachts, Cannes where the annual international film festival is a huge event and of course Monaco. The entire area is known for its aromas, flavor and a colorful lifestyle.
A chef with one of the most illustrious careers in the region is Chef Alain Llorca, chef-owner of a hotel and restaurant with a patisserie next door in Colle sur Loup near the medieval village of St Paul de Vence. Llorca gained international repute when he was at Le Moulin de Mougin, the restaurant made famous under the reign of chef Roger Verge in whose kitchen many chefs trained and learnt the intricacies of haute French cuisine. These include illustrious names like Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Jacques Maximin, Patrick Lenotre and Hubert Keller. Verge’s style of cuisine came to be known as Cuisine du Soleil, a contemporary style using fresh local products in the Provençal region. In 2004 when Llorca took over the reins of the restaurant established in 1969 there was much conjecture about how he would put his own stamp on the cuisine. It was not easy as established customers and dining fanatics in France were not open to changes to Verge’s style but Llorca eventually triumphed.
Llorca born in 1968 in Cannes and grew up in the area, going on to train at the Lycee Technique Hotelier Paul Augier in Nice and obtained his professional training diploma. He began his career in 1986 in a small auberge followed by stints at Juana a Juan Les Pins, Hotel Negresco in Nice, Pinade in Saint-Tropez, in 1991 at Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris, Monaco under Alain Ducasse, 1992- 1996 as chef de cuisine at Les Peintres in Haut de Cagnes where he earned a Michelin star. In 1997 he joined l’Hotel Negresco in Nice earning two Michelin stars and was selected as one of the 12 Grand Chefs of the year by the Gault & Millau guide. Then from 2004 to 2008 he was the Chef de Cuisine and director of Le Moulin de Mougins in Mougins near Cannes. In 2007 he was Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. After Mougin he spent some time heading the kitchen of La Passagere in the Hotel Belles-Rives.
Since 2009 he is the general manager and chef de cuisine with one Michelin star at his own four star hotel Alain Llorca in La Colle sur Loup. The restaurant and the terrace at the hotel have spectacular views of the village of Saint Paul de Vence and the sea 7-8kms away. The art work by local artistes, many with ateliers in the artsy village are selected by him and he has also collaborated with artist Sasha SOSNO on a mixed media project. There are numerous galleries and museums of modern art in the area such as the Fondation Maeght as well as the well-known Colombre d’Or hotel in St. Paul de Vence. At all his ventures, Jean-Michel Llorca, his brother, who is a well-known pastry chef, handles the sweet side while Alain takes care of the savory offerings. The Llorca brothers have expanded with the Cafe Llorca in the Grimaldi Pavilion in Monaco, Place Centrale in Cap 3000, a restaurant Carre Llorca, in the old part Nice and a cooking school.
A conversation with Alain Llorca:
You have spent your life in the area where you grew up the farthest you have ventured is to Monaco with your project in the Grimaldi pavilion. Why have you preferred to stay so close to your roots?
I have remained in the region I was born and I grew up in between Cannes to Cagnes sur Mer and have worked in several institutions in the region. I didn’t plan it this way but it so happened as I applied close to home when I was very young. Monaco has been an opportunity to associate myself with the Pavilion catering group and there I opened Café Llorca above the Grimaldi forum.
Who has influenced your style of cooking the most?
I am most influenced by the style of Philippe Rochat the Chef at Bristol, Paris, chef Alain Passard for the cooking of vegetables and then Maitre Bruno Cerino is for me the best chef in the PACA (Provence- Alps-Cote d’ Azur) region. He is both classic and whimsical.
At what age did you enter the kitchen, and what was the first dish you cooked by yourself?
I entered the kitchen when I was 16 years old and my first plate that I prepared was petite peas which I cooked with a sauce with lard, chicken, potatoes and carrots.
Your brother chose to work in patisserie, but what led you in a different direction?
It was simply that I prefer the savory cuisine but always enjoy the patisserie creations of my brother! (The mimosa cake is spectacular)
What is your philosophy of cuisine?
I prepare a cuisine that respects the seasons, is market based with an Iberian consonance.
How would you counsel young people entering this field of cuisine?
When I advise young people I tell them that in order to follow the same path as me they should work with quality chefs being careful not to burn any bridges behind them.
How important is it to attend culinary school?
The culinary school helps to understand if it is the right direction for their future. While at school, they can determine if they are going to succeed in this area or not. This is a profession that takes time to learn, all of your time
What is your most significant memory of hotel school in Nice?
During my first stage in a restaurant I knew immediately on the first day that I was not in the wrong field of work in fact I knew this is going to be the profession for me.
Which season is your favorite for its products?
Each season has its products and is the cook to understand how best to present it on the plate.
You had the good fortune to train with chefs such as Ducasse and Maximin, however how do you define your particular style of cuisine?
Each chef that I worked with and could see their style of work inspired me. They all had their strengths and weaknesses.
Which peers are your ideals or role models?
I like and admire them all: Passard, Blanc, Marx, Pic, Robuchon, Ducasse, Piège, Cirion, Bocuse, Marcon, Troisgros, Guérard.
Is it true that you are a fan if music (especially the Beatles) and you listen to music while working?
Yes I like the music of Beatles very much but I also enjoy other music. As for listening to music while at work, never!
How do you deal with guests who do not appreciate your presentations?. Do you try to modify things to their tastes?
We always listen to our customers and that allows us to give them an enjoyable experience.
You are a contemporary visionist in the kitchen. How was your experience with the traditional cuisine at Moulons de Mougin?
When I arrived at Moulin de Mougins I literally changed the whole traditional cuisine to an entirely different contemporary cuisine.
Your favorite place for a relaxing vacation?
The beautiful island of Mauritius.
Which celebrities have you had the most memorable interaction with (especially during the Cannes film festival?
I met and got to know a lot of them when Sharon Stone organized AMFAR with more than 700 people and a lot of celebrities.
What is your favorite city in The US?
Definitely New York.