Alain Ducasse's Riviera
Author: Pat Nourse
Photography: Pierre Monetta
It's no secret that Alain Ducasse's heart belongs to the Riviera. In J'aime Monaco: Ma Méditerranée en 170 Adresses, the follow-up to J'aime Paris, the chef introduces us to the landscape of his formative years as a culinary superpower. Ducasse grew up in Landes, in south-west France, but it was at Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo that he first cemented his reputation, after many years working all over Provence and the Côte d'Azur.
It was at Le Louis XV that in 1990, at 33, he became the youngest chef to attain the red guide's prized three-star rating. Not one to rest on his bay leaves, in 2005 Ducasse became the first chef to hold three sets of three stars simultaneously, an honour he retains today with Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London along with Le Louis XV. He now has scores of restaurants to his name, spread from Las Vegas to Hong Kong, Tokyo to St-Petersburg, holding 20 Michelin stars in total. He has published shelves of books, and his company has consulted to the European Space Agency on food for astronauts.
But despite his culinary superstardom, Ducasse has never lost his taste for the cuisine of the sun. Le Louis XV might have a reputation for unbridled indulgence, but its cuisine is founded on artichokes and anchovies, peppers, olive oil and sea bass.
The Riviera that Ducasse introduces us to in his latest book is a place of luxury, certainly, taking in the likes of Le Louis XV, of course, as well as restaurants from the new generation of envelope-pushers, such as Mauro Colagreco's Le Mirazur in Menton. But Ducasse's idea of hedonism still, we're happy to say, encompasses the markets and back-alley eateries, the delis and butcheries, the husband-and-wife operations that give the region its soul. The selection we've translated here is just the tip of the iceberg.
Alain Ducasse's Riviera essentials
Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse
This is my original cuisine. My Mediterranean spirit. It was in Monaco that I understood the spirit of the Riviera and learnt that a "poor" cuisine in the spirit of the Ligurian valleys or the hills of Nice is just as valuable as any gastronomy, and that a high-class restaurant could host simplicity and goodness. With Franck Cerutti - loyal to Niçoise terroir and Tuscan tradition - and all my chefs, including Pascal Bardet, we focus on flavour and produce ahead of everything else. A wild green asparagus riso light as lace, line-caught sea bass with Cailletier olives, milk-fed lamb from the Pyrénées with Espelette peppers… I love that Louis XV is an haute couture address with an artisanal spirit.
Hôtel de Paris, Place du Casino, Monte Carlo 98000, Monaco, +377 98 06 88 64
In a far-off land, a conquistador was needed. It was Mauro Colagreco, a child of La Plata near Buenos Aires and protégé of Alain Passard, Bernard Loiseau and Alain Ducasse. At this frontier post, they wished him good luck. He seized his opportunity and went on to bring Michelin stars to Menton and made Mirazur his post. Carpaccio of prawns, radish and lemon caviar; pork belly, persimmon and caramelised quinces - a buccaneer's delight; frozen almond mousse, fennel and orange sorbet… It is cuisine and expression, produce honoured and unadulterated, the painterly plate, textures, adventures, emotions. The fire and the foam. In the evening, the bay windows showcase the old quarter where Cocteau used to draw. Past and present - a clear line!
30 avenue Aristide Briand, 06500 Menton, France, +33 492 41 86 86
Cave de la Tour
There is this: "To drink is to be a patriot." And this: "There are two types of men - the Niçois and those who yearn to be." Whichever way you look at it, Jean-Philippe Gazan's cellar-cum-bistro, where local workers gather, is from Nice and for Nice. One room is dedicated to regional wines. At the bar and the tables, the menu is Nissart: pissaladière, piech (a stuffed veal breast), andouillette and porchetta from the local charcutier, and, twice a month, an unforgettable salt cod dish. Nothing changes in this friendly, convivial, typically Niçoise refuge. It's rarely closed, and when it is, it's only on account of "extreme fatigue".
3 rue de la Tour, 06300 Vieux Nice, France, +33 493 80 03 31.
Porchetta, originally from Piedmont but Niçoise at heart, is suckling pig stuffed with its tripe and offal along with thyme, sage and bay leaves. Dinna and Laurent Pottier took over the house of Ghibaudo and respect the founding principles. A Mayennais and an American doing porchetta? "We were quickly accepted by the locals. Dinna is called the 'little American Niçoise'," Laurent says. "My son is by my side. The day I stop making porchetta, I will quit the business altogether." Aficionados go for his caillettes, andouillettes and boudin noir with apples, walnuts, chestnuts. And the Perugian sausages with pepper and fennel! And lou trulé, a local pudding with silverbeet!
A bit of charcuterie, a lot of knowledge and Nice for everyone.
29 rue Pairolière, 06300 Nice, France, +33 493 85 60 34
Pipo! Steeve Bernardo attended ESSEC [one of France's premier business schools], but changed professions to make socca [large chickpea-flour crêpes]. Bernardo was born in this port-side quarter where he took over this 90-year-old institution. In the centre is the 300-year-old stone oven from Biot, which is hot as hell to make the pancakes golden. Whether for a snack or meal, the socca is part of the history of Nice and defies time. Irrespective of age or background, everyone loves this workman's dish, which must be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Wooden tables and benches inside, folding chairs on the terrace, photos of Nice from the Belle Époque, when pieces of socca were sold along the Quai du Midi. The address is pure Nice heritage, but above all, it's a table of friends.
13 rue Bavastro, 06300 Nice, France, +33 493 55 88 82
The ice-creams from Fenocchio are sinful. So go pray at the St-Reparate Cathedral on the other side of the plaza. Two prayers, one Hail Mary, a genuflection and, quick, an ice-cream. For nearly 50 years we have wavered between the devil and the divine presence. In his boutique-laboratory on the hillside of La Gaude, the artisan maintains his traditions. In the heart of Old Nice, the house of a hundred flavours serves ice-creams infused with basil, tomato, olive oil, figs, melon, thyme, orange-blossom… and the "Count of Nice" with pine nuts and preserved mandarins. Bless Fenocchio and his ice-creams.
2 place Rosetti/6 rue de la Poissonnerie, 06300 Nice, France, +33 493 80 72 52
Marché Cours Saleya
Everyone says "I'm going to Saleya," the flower market, as that is the heart of Nice. The baroque Misericorde Chapel and 17th-century Palace of the Dukes of Savoy watch over the multicoloured stalls. Matisse had one of his studios here. César, a popular sculptor who cooked pure Nissart cuisine, found all his produce here. Thérésa, queen of the socca, sells her little pieces of sunshine. The baskets overflow with mesclun, rocket, zucchini flowers, oxheart tomatoes, lemons and fennel. When the farmers head back to the hills and the fishmongers close shop, the antique dealers bring out their wares. It's Saleya, just enjoying its double life.
Cours Saleya, 06300 Vieux Nice, France
The cuisine is "d'aqui", from here. Pure Niçoise cuisine, but comprehensible for patrons from far and wide. Zucchini beignets; mesclun, rocket and ricotta; pesto pasta; salt cod; silverbeet tart - every dish has its papers in order and a visa from the nearby Saleya market. Dominique Le Stanc left formal fine-dining one autumn day in 1996. "Finally, I will be able to cook!" he said, making only small changes to this neighbourhood restaurant created 20 years ago by the Giustis, a husband-and-wife team. Simplicity, local produce, a tiny kitchen with red tiles, cosy shoulder-to-shoulder tables, stools to set off your arthritis; telephone, fax, internet and credit cards forbidden. Happiness!
4 rue Raoul Bosio, 06300 Nice, France
Fruit and vegetables, golden lemons, little goat's cheeses and sheep's cheeses, olive oils from Menton and Liguria… Between the seaside and the old city, the municipal hall hosts the latest from 30 or so producers from this gourmet region. You can try barbagiuans (filled savoury pastries), socca, flatbread with pine nuts, and pichade, a tomato, onion and anchovy tart. One of the last covered markets on the Riviera, it was once held near the waterfront under the shade of the plane trees. The late-19th-century architecture, seen in the elongated eaves on the rooftops, red bricks, "grotesques" with grimacing masks, glazed ceramics and palm-tree decoration, evokes the romantic Belle Époque of fiction.
Quai de Monléon, 06500 Menton, France, +33 492 41 76 76
Tonnelle/Abbaye de Lérins
"The monastery should be set up so we can find all that is needed: water, a mill, a small garden, workshops…" St-Benoît's edict still dictates the lifestyle of the Cistercian community, but daily life at the abbey has adapted to modern times. It's a place of prayer and spiritual retreat, but also a vegetable garden, vineyard and olive grove. La Tonnelle, on St-Honorat Island just offshore from Cannes's La Croisette and overlooking St-Marguerite Island, opens its terrace under the pines to pilgrims and tourists who can try fried whitebait; warm goat's cheese terrine with honey and walnuts; tomato, mozzarella and basil; cuttlefish à la plancha; grilled meats and fish… Between liturgy and gastronomy, a saint of a restaurant.
Île St-Honorat, 06400 Cannes, +33 492 99 54 08
Ristorante Apricale da Delio
Delio Viale used to run the restaurant Gaston in Dolceacqua. Now he has taken over the family inn in the village of his birth, Apricale, with its steep streets and stone-built houses. In his serene house on the shady terrace, only good dishes from old recipes are served: machetusa (pizza with anchovy paste), stuffed vegetables, herbed ravioli, spelt pasta with a piquant pesto, rabbit casserole, salt cod, the little Louis d'Or cheeses from Seborga, and lasagne of sautéed vegetables with basil. Of course we drink rossese from Dolceacqua or a drop of vermentino and we have, also from the local region, Taggiasca olive oil, white beans from Pigna, and sheep's cheese from the Argentina Valley. Quite simply, produce of the terroir.
9 Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 18035 Apricale, Imperia, Italy, +39 0184 208 008
Le Clos St-Basile
The patio garden is green with freshness in summer. The house, with its lime-washed walls and bay windows, looks like a boutique in Provence. So, all is well! "Yes, but are you enjoying the meal? The scallops in lamb's lettuce jus with gnocchi, black truffles and parmesan? It's good, but good in what way?" We wouldn't change Benoît Dargère, incurable perfectionist and protégé of Alain Passard. His cuisine seduces beyond the walls of Mougins: his dishes are light and fragrant, and whoever has tasted his caramel praline millefeuille will not find anything to equal it. Caroline Dargère smiles; the patrons come back and say (again), "It's good!"
351 avenue St-Basile, 06250 Mougins, France, +33 492 92 93 03
La Criée du Port
The best fish from the Riviera di Ponente take their last breath at the auction market in Oneglia. Facing the Quay des Chaluts between the Arcobaleno Bar and the U Balincio fish market, the auction of Mirko and Stefano sings out from under the rose-coloured arches. The price depends on the time, the ocean and the catch. Ovidio, Orchidea Bianca, Sant 'Anna, Libeccio… the poetically named boats have brought in prawns and scampi from Oneglia, octopus, calamari, monkfish, red mullet, local fish (ricciole, lampughe), tuna and swordfish from between Corsica and the mainland. Andrea, the chef from local restaurant Agrodolce, finds happiness here. Often Bruno Cirino comes from La Turbie to cook his Ligurian treasures at the Hostellerie Jérome.
Oneglia, 18100 Imperia, Italy
Right in the heart of the village, this restaurant is inspired, luminous with a sense of history. Denis Fétisson, who worked with Roger Vergé, Alain Ducasse and Yannick Alléno and has Paul Bajade (the lord of truffles in the Haut-Var region) as his master, has found his place in the south. Carpaccio of "pineapple" tomatoes laced with seaweed, grilled turbot with thyme-flower petals, ox-cheek confit in tomato vinegar, and rigatoni in gratin Bolognaise are some of the first courses in his gourmet cuisine, surrounded by masterpieces by Buffet, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol and Dufy. At nearby L'Amandier, a restaurant true to its heritage with stone walls, olive press and a golden terrace, Fétisson offers his delicious cuisine du soleil, the cuisine of the sun, a fresh take on Provençale cuisine pioneered by Vergé.
Place du Commandant Lamy, 06250 Mougins, France, +33 493 90 15 78
This is a translated and edited extract from J'aime Monaco: Ma Méditerranée en 170 Adresses by Alain Ducasse with photographs by Pierre Monetta, published by Alain Ducasse Édition ($45). Translation by Dana Levy.