Oustau de Baumaniere
The highly refined cuisine is done contemporary Mediterranean style and the emphasis is on seafood.
OF all the memorable places to visit on a culinary journey to Provence, Oustau de Baumaniere - a series of luxuriously converted stone farmhouses set in a region of unmatched rugged beauty beneath the 13th-century hill village of Les Baux some 35 km from Avignon - surely deserves special consideration.
Baumaniere means 'fine manners' and you'll find plenty of that in the guest bedrooms - plus food to match - in this family-owned place, which acquired its first Michelin star in 1948 and 3-star status in 1954. Jean-Andre Charial, who took over from his grandfather, currently holds two stars and has taken the business into the modern age while successfully retaining its patina of tradition.
This is a famous place that exudes farmhouse chic and where for 62 years, the guest list has included some of the most famous names of the day. Lining the walls in one of the dining rooms, for example, are drawings - doodles, really - by Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, who dined here regularly in the 1950s.
The highly refined cuisine is done contemporary Mediterranean style and the emphasis is on seafood. Charial, who was trained by his grandfather, has also worked with Alain Chapel and Paul Bocuse. He took the unconventional route to culinary stardom, going to business school before joining his grandfather (who was past 50 when he started to cook and who died at age 97 some 14 years ago) in the kitchen.
Naturally, the style of cuisine has changed somewhat over the years. 'The cooking we're doing now is nothing to do with the earlier time,' says Charial. 'I hardly use any cream now, just a lot of olive oil.' Indeed, the surrounding area is dry, rugged, and full of olive groves. Charial also grows organic vegetables within the grounds.
A recent meal at Oustau - to be replicated at Gordon Grill - provided a good indication of Charial's cooking philosophy. It started with seared Mediterranean tuna with a modern Nicoise salad, and followed by a simple grilled red mullet whose skin was razor thin and wonderfully crispy.
Then came a sea bass with bouillabaisse sauce, and a full-flavoured pigeon dish, accompanied by a selection of spectacular vegetables from the restaurant's home garden. 'My cuisine is more about the product than anything,' says Charial.
'We're in the country, and the cooking here is different from other places. The countryside here is minimal, with lots of rocks. The cooking should express the terroir - the soul of the region. He adds: 'Nowadays, people are changing too much the structure of the food - you don't know what you're eating, and that's not what I want to express.'
Oustau de Beaumaniere is in 13520 Les Baux de Provence.
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