My recent travels took me to the South of France, Monaco, Lyon, Valence, Roanne, and Paris. I had an opportunity to visit the kitchens at the Palace of Monaco with Christian Garcia, Executive Chef to Prince Albert, and interview him. I also reconnected with Chef Alain Llorca outside my favorite village of St. Paul de Vence, tasted the most incredible foie-stuffed lamb chops, and met his gorgeous wife Virginie before heading to Monaco. Nice is a charming city and makes a good base for visiting Saint Tropez, Cannes, Eze, St. Jean, Cap Ferrat, Grasse, and other beautiful villages and towns in the region. After repeated visits I no longer view it as a tourist but love to be back all the same.
Christian Garcia, who is president of the exclusive club of chefs around the world that cook for Presidents and royalty, was a delight to get acquainted with and he loves his job as he likes to say and it is very evident. Who wouldn’t? What a life, to meet guests and celebrities from all over the world and cook for them in the royal kitchens. The very interesting conversation will soon be published and shared with all of you.
No matter how many times I visit Monaco it is always spectacular and pristine. I attended an over the top Indian wedding where the grooms procession wound its way from the Hotel de Paris past the Monte Carlo Casino, Cafe de Paris to the beat of Indian drums and a few hundred exotically dressed guests. I visited Mauro and Julia Colagreco, as well as the impish little Valentine, their son, at Mirazur in Menton. Mirazur captivates not only with its beautiful views of the coastline but also with Colagreco’s brilliant cuisine. Once you get past the beautiful plates it’s the freshness of the seasonal and local ingredients and especially Colagreco’s masterful manipulation of these that marks your palate. The two Michelin stars should soon be three because in that two week period I dined at the finest temples of cuisine in France and have to say my experiences at Mirazur closely challenged them. I visited the amazing Ventimiglia market across the French border in Italy with the Colagrecos and met the smiling Angela at the tiny La Vecchia Ostaia and she cooked the best pasta and especially the artichoke for which I am ready to go back for anytime. At that tiny eatery hanging off the side of the winding road I had one of my best meals with friends this year. Thank you Julia!
In Roanne at Maison Troisgros I had a spectacular meal with of course the escalope of salmon in sorrel sauce and had the most interesting visit with Michel Troisgros and his son Cesar, who works alongside his father. It’s like stepping into history and Michel Troisgros has the most interesting anecdotes and stories of culinary figures including Alice Waters with whom he worked ages ago in California. Of course in Lyon the mandatory visit to Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or which for me is like paying homage to Paul Bocuse, the chef who is known as a the pope of cuisine (this is how Joel Robuchon refers to him). Lyon is a beautiful city and I dined at a bouchon in the old town a break between an endless parade of Michelin star restaurants during my trip.
Maison Pic in Valence is one of the most spectacular restaurants in France and Anne Sophie Pic’s cuisine is delightful, a very well deserved three Michelin star status. The food, the ambiance, and the service are all amazing. In my conversation with her I asked if a women’s touch made a difference in artistic presentation but the answer to that will be in my interview to be published. She reminds me a lot of Elena Arzak and to some extent they look alike and have the same energy and personality.
Paris was a celebration of several days with a chance to see friends Pierre Gagnaire, Guy Savoy, visit with Bertrand Grebault, David Toutain, and a few others. The only off note in this visit was a meal at L’Astrance. I have never been so underwhelmed and disappointed as I was at this visit to Pascal Barbot’s restaurant. I never critique or comment on negative aspects of my experiences but this one is hard to forget especially a three Michelin star that involved the ridiculous procedures of making reservations and middle of the night calls from another time zone. Much as I admire Pascal Barbot and his philosophy, the experience did not live up to it, nor the food and especially the service.
On the other hand, Septime and David Toutain are a delight and deserving of stars of every kind. David Toutain who was recently in Los Angeles cooking at an All Star Chefs Classic event and whom I first met in San Sebastián Spain is such a grounded young chef. At his restaurant it was a reunion of sorts of people from Mugaritz, including his lovely wife Thai and their sommelier Linda. We had a lengthy conversation and I cannot wait to see him again on my next trip back to Paris. Bertrand Grebault likes to keep a low profile and there is no self-promotional conversation, a refreshing change from young chefs these days. Very low key, intense and committed to his work, he was at work at 9 in the morning after having left work just a few hours earlier after the prior night’s service. Clamato and Septime are not to be missed on a trip to Paris.
Guy Savoy in the middle of frenetic service in his kitchen updated me on the ongoing renovation and relocation process of his new location at Hotel Monnaie. You have to come back in May when we open he said. Hmmm, maybe I will. Pierre Gagnaire was in his dining room getting a table organized personally for guests due to some reservation snafu before coming over to chat. These are chefs who are still hands on and actually cooking and care about each guest, and that explains the longevity of their careers and their repute. Gagnaire is coming to California in June to cook in Napa before heading to Las Vegas and Twist.
While in Paris I heard from Rene Redzepi of Noma that there will be no MAD event this year and I am so bummed about it. I hope they reorganize and restructure their operation to continue one of the best events of our industry and something all cooks and others in the food world look forward to for the past four years. Each MAD has been a learning experience for me and I have always come back charged with new ideas and enthusiasm to do my part in the continued progress of our culinary fraternity. Mesamerica is another casualty this year and there is talk of this Mexico City event being held later in September this year. We can only wait and hope.
Albert Adria marked thirty years in the kitchen, and friends including moi sent him little videos of our congratulations which were played at a surprise party for him. Joan Roca of Celler de Can Roca also made it to the very special celebration. Chef Joel Robuchon celebrated his 70th birthday and the remarkable man that he is he still continues to forge ahead with new projects all over the world. Now it’s time to write all my stories and conversations to share with other food enthusiasts and friends.
Update from MAD
Just announced that the next event will be held in 2016 and the details will emerge over the coming months but thankfully it Will Happen.