Andrew Purvis, The Daily Telegraph, August 05, 2013
It is one of the most spectacular roads on Earth: the Grande Corniche, zigzagging high above the Côte d’Azur, from Nice past the pendant-shaped peninsula of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to Cap-d’Ail, Monaco, Roquebrune and Menton, close to the Italian border. From its belvederes, 1,700ft above sea level, you can look back towards Cap d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Cannes and St-Tropez, names synonymous with Hollywood glamour, and forwards to the craggy massifs of the Alpes Maritime. Directly below is the Moyenne Corniche, a lower road passing under rock arches, over ravines and through an ancient landscape dotted with poplars and turreted châteaux, with the sparkling Mediterranean beyond. It is coastline of coves, rocky headlands, marinas, grand hotels, well-groomed beaches and world-famous restaurants.
The most famous of them all is Le Louis XV in Monaco, presided over by Alain Ducasse, whose refined cooking techniques brought French haute cuisine to a stretch of coast that previously had none. Less than three years after taking over at Le Louis XV, in 1987, he was awarded three Michelin stars and his restaurants around the world have collected 21 between them. In 2005, Ducasse became the first chef ever to earn three Michelin stars at a trio of restaurants, in Monaco, New York and Paris.
Of the three destinations, Monaco remains closest to his heart, not least for the access it gives to both the French and Italian Rivieras, with their rustic cuisines, simple seafood restaurants and produce bursting with flavour and Mediterranean sunshine. Here is his guide to the region and its bounty.
What makes Côte d’Azur cuisine special?
It’s all about preserving the original, natural tastes of produce from the sea and from the earth. The star ingredient is olive oil, either from specific trees that grow only at the eastern end of the Mediterranean or from the countryside around Nice, up in the hills. You could say there is an olive oil cult here.
What inspired me, when I first came to the Côte d’Azur at the age of 21, was the fish. I’m passionate about red mullet, really fresh, just out of the sea, a type you find only in a particular spot. Go a few hundred metres away and it’s completely different. What also struck me was the vegetables. We have a unique courgette from Nice – the courgette violon, shaped like a violin – and in high summer we have wonderful tomatoes, aubergines, broad beans, girolles mushrooms, peppers, salad leaves and herbs, especially basil.
Which dish sums it all up?
La cocotte de légume, named after the pot it’s cooked in. It’s Mediterranean vegetables, cooked very slowly in their own humidity, with just a tiny amount of vegetable or chicken stock. It’s my signature dish at Le Louis XV but the inspiration came from Mimi Brothier, a lady who slow-cooks with her heart.
What else should we look out for?
Like many southern cultures, we have a tradition of le stockfish, dried salted morue [cod] or églefin [haddock], reconstituted in a ragout like Portuguese bacalhau. In the winter there’s la daube, a Provençal stew of beef braised in wine with vegetables, garlic and herbs such as rosemary and even lavender.
Pan-bagnat [“bathed bread”] is popular in Nice. It’s a round pain de campagne [country loaf] filled with the ingredients of a salade Niçoise – tomatoes cut in quarters, raw vegetables such as radishes, peppers and artichoke hearts, hard-boiled eggs, black olives and anchovies or tuna.
Another thing you’ll see in Nice is les petits farçis, small spring or summer vegetables stuffed with a soft filling of the vegetable itself, preserving its colours and flavours. We’re also very proud of our fromages de paysans, goats’ cheeses that have no name but are made in the countryside by people who have just a few animals. They’re very fresh, very delicious.
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