By Laurent Feneau
Located on a line stretching between the mountains and the Mediterranean, Mauro Colagreco aims for the perfect and sublime culinary balance provided by a naturalist thread that runs through international cuisine. Welcome to the Mirazur!
When people ask the way to the Mirazur, the folk of Menton raise their hands as if to point towards Heaven before adding: "at the frontier". And, in fact, at twenty metres from the spellbinding villa that is home to Mauro Colagreco's restaurant, you can see a sign for "Italy" and the remains of a pre-European frontier. An open area, ideal for this Argentine born chef - "my land, my landmarks, my memories" - whose roots, however, are in Calabria and in the Spanish Basque country. Regions of frontiers and of water, of strong personalities, products and flavours, a journey leading to the extraordinary gardens of Menton.
Halfway between garden and sea
Let's go back in time for a moment In a family where everybody had the taste and the skill for cooking without, however, using these attributes professionally, Mauro readily remembers his grandmother Amalia Blanco, a native of Bilbao, the person mainly responsible imbuing him with culinary skills. To the point where, having embarked on more pragmatic destinations, it was to cooking that he finally turned his attention when he became somewhat disillusioned with his economics studies
After a spell in an Argentine cookery school, he arrived in France, already accompanied by Daniella, his discreet companion whose presence followed him over the seas. To France because of its gastronomic traditions rather than for its culinary dogmas! Because Mauro asks for nothing more than to sweep away old prejudices and taboos and to discover new paths. Like the one opened up for him by Bernard Loiseau which gave him his first foothold in the business. Or the path to creativity and to the sublimation of garden produce he started to tread thanks to Alain Passard with whom he worked for several years as second-in-command.
It was only a step from the gardens of the Arpège chef to those of Menton, one that the Mirazur chef did not hesitate to take, so inspired was he by the luxuriant growth clothing the rocks
Some have two loves in their lives but Mauro now has two gardens in his.
On the side overlooking the sea, the garden where he grows herbs, flowers and fruit, in squares of oxalis, burnet, lemon balm, oregano, violets and wild strawberries, neatly laid out between the trunks of lemon trees. And higher up, looking to the mountains, his kitchen garden including some twenty species of tomatoes. Both these clearly separate areas only come together on your plate
Colagreco's most admirable feature is his constant desire to juggle land and sea in order to finally abolish the boundary between these two elements. A desire that remains under total control, the perfect re-transcription of the geographical proximity of the sea to his gardens which are a mere few tens of metres above the bay of Menton. Certainly, this takes us back to Andoni Luis Aduriz, but Mauro, on the basis of a well-thought out minimalism, tends to home in on the essential. Where the Basque genius of Mugaritz can occasionally lose itself in excessively intellectual abstractions, the Argentine invents a new culinary world that is more accessible because it is more sensual.
First of all, your attention is caught by the extreme simplicity of line. It echoes the simplicity of one oyster served with a shallot flavoured cream, pear jelly and a few cress leaves. That's it. And yet, the precision of this dish surprises because its flavours are stacked according to a comprehensively mastered science. First the shallot and then the oyster with its iodine. The diner remains suspended between garden and sea until the pear, but above all the bitter-sweet watercress suddenly remind us that the plant kingdom prevails.
"Initially, I had in mind three or four menus that I could see myself developing here for each season. But I threw them all away as soon as I stepped outside. " That is quite understandable. Outside, you are overwhelmed with heady fragrances and a luxuriant nature that disorientate your senses.
Intimacy and emotion
If you could only choose one dish from this terrestrial menu with its marine influences, it would clearly have to be the "winter garden". To your surprise, it reminds you of the renowned gargouillou of Michel Bras where Aubrac herbs, plants and flowers are brought together to produce a total work of art. Yes, but without that highly personal touch applied by Mauro Colagreco who uses mushroom dust to connect some twenty plants. Original and poetic loam overlaid to the best possible effect by the Mirazur chef with freely and legibly transposed components.
And beyond all this, a thread runs through all this bountiful Mediterranean nature on which the Mirazur chef constructs his entire cuisine: that of the wide blue sea. Such as the sea bass landed the same day and its smoked foam. It's an emotional experience and your senses are set alight by this gentle, just slightly seared flavour However, the cuisine of Mauro Colagreco is never so appealing as when it departs from the dazzling balance it always strives for. The produce, its intermingling flavours and fragrances. Convictions are overcome. Intimacy now becomes tinged with a hint of abstraction as in the case of the foie gras cooked at low temperature and accompanied by a hint of absinthe.
The perfect transition towards a magnificent dessert redolent of romanticism. A wild violet ice cream accompanying and revealing a milky roll coated in the milk skin, highlighted by a hint of honey and delicately displayed on a slate. This is where we experience the "sentimental" aspect, in the noblest expression of the term, of Mauro's cuisine!
30 avenue Aristide Briand