A breeze over Nice
By Laurent Feneau
Set like a boat on the Nice coast but deliberately letting itself drift away from the moorings of local cuisines, La Réserve is a leading address on the Riviera. At the helm, Jouni Tormanen and Giuseppe Serena hoist the spinnaker of creativity.
Anchored on its rocky spur overlooking the sea is La Réserve. Just the location, on the exit to the port of Nice, is an invitation to taking a trip in space and in time. Seated in front of the huge window that overlooks the sea, you cannot help but imagine that you are the master of this stone built vessel. However, the dream has already started for Giuseppe and Jouni who, in 2007, became the only masters of this strange Art-deco building. And the voyage. Especially for Jouni Tormanen who runs the kitchens. "I was born in Kuusamo, at 800 km north of Helsinki. We were three boys in the family and when my two brothers went away with my father, I stayed behind with my mother to cook ". The Tormanen family were almost self-sufficient. "We did almost everything ourselves. I seem to remember that we only bought butter, milk and eggs. Even the rye and barley flours came from a farmer friend" Arriving from his native Finland in 1993, Jouni fell in love with the French Riviera. From Alain Ducasse to Ferran Adrià, via Jean-François Piège, he immediately worked alongside the greatest names and soon found his own personal approach: an extremely "nature" cuisine, perfectly approachable and strangely miles away from the usual gastronomic references. In brief, a cuisine that cannot be pigeon-holed
Star of the North
Since he took over La Réserve with his business partner Giuseppe, the winds have been set fair. They jostle, they come from far, sometimes from very far, to see the pole star shine in his kitchen. If only to savour his ravioli filled with spiny artichoke from Albenga. Available part-dried, the leaves from this Italian variety are brought back to life and into shape when they come into contact with the sauce served with this famous ravioli That's the genius of Jouni! An enlightened cuisine capable of enlivening the produce and even giving it a reason for being. In fact, Jouni is the Dr Frankenstein of the ovens. And on the technical side, he praises the efficiency of the bare flame - griddle, wok, etc. - that delivers "the real flavour of food".
Beyond this, the young chef loves to celebrate not only the sardine, the anchovy, the little stuffed vegetables, the pistou, but also the white shrimps or the gnocchi. However, he never quite follows the tune of the Italian-Nice culinary songbook. Certainly not. If Jouni invites regional produce to his table, it is in order to question local traditions. Any tradition! Nice, Italian, Provencal It's all grist to the mill. He re-examines, refines, seeks out, invents but always following a well-defined path: highlighting the sacrosanct produce. In order to ensure the greatest possible freshness, the menu changes daily (or almost). Small local producers are called upon to make their contribution. Purple asparagus from Albenga, white coco beans from Pigna, stone-ground organic corn from the Mulino di Piova or a vegetable chutney from the Saint-Jeannet organic farm, enough to fill a ship's hold and to confidently set sail
An angel flies past...
"Jouni never orders by phone. He visits his suppliers, goes to the market and, for instance, never hesitates about crossing the border to Ventimiglia where the market gardener selects his best produce for the chef. Sometimes, he even travels to Spain where he sources rare vegetables such as the cardoon that he serves in a velvety sauce accompanied by cheese from the Aosta Valley ", says Giuseppe Serena. Yes, that also is Jouni. Up to a culinary end product that can sometimes take on a frightening dimension through its lack of boundaries both on and off the plate. And then, " Just give Jouni three items and he will produce something quite wonderful. He always gets a result". On the other side of the coin, there is this almost obsessive precision and the extreme demands made on his squad. The chef will not tolerate anything in his kitchen that is merely 'good enough'. Fine! But by trying to be everywhere at once - downstairs, in the La Réserve bistro to griddle squid; upstairs in the Atelier du Goût to cook a risotto with Alba truffle - he ends up being nowhere. There are even times when the Flying Fin is like a passing breeze that has no hesitation in abandoning the ship for terra firma.
No panic. The road map has been prepared! At the crossroads between Scandinavia, Morocco, India and Italy, the route wends its way through five continents, roasting John Dory, diving into sweet potatoes, reviving fish & chips, producing a Finnish version of the bouillabaisse and reinventing a few of the great classics such as the chocolate tart. Pure or almost pure cocoa. An extreme experience from which Jouni has taken away anything that is not absolutely essential. The result is chocolate and only chocolate. Because for this tart, the pastry - reduced to its simplest expression, that is to say no more than two millimetres thick - becomes almost transparent beneath the Nice sun.
From genie to mutineer
So, with or without Jouni, things get done in the kitchen and guests enjoy their treats in the dining room. There is no point, then, in re-enacting Mutiny on the Bounty. It's best to just go with the flow and be amazed by the strange omnipresence of the ship's master, even when he has sailed away. He will still be there, in the corner of each plate, in the bottom of each glass You will imagine that you can hear his voice, that he will poke his head out of the kitchen door. Although he might to take French leave, La Réserve is never a ghost ship. Oh yes. Captain Tormanen is a clever genie who can allow himself a few days off. And why shouldn't he?
Then we consider the carpaccio of sea bass with its citric fruits bursting with flavour. No. Absent friends are not always wrong. Especially when the strength of their talent leaves behind such pleasure. And even less - let's be fair - when they are so ably supported. Because if, for Sébastien Mahuet, there is absolutely no question of tinkering with the menu road map, he is still free to sail towards inspirational waters. Especially when such a voyage culminates with an impressive chocolate brownie with date cream.
And then there's Giuseppe, the business partner, financier, 'impresario Deceptively discreet in the kitchen, he also acts as Jouni's third eye, second palate and leading food taster. It is easy to imagine that, behind the griddled squid or the squid ink risotto, there is advice given by an Italian gastronome - euphemism? - especially because the care taken by this Roman palate means that he will have added his "secret ingredient" to the mix. The right amount when the unnoticed "Monsieur Plus" jogs his elbow in fact. That's Giuseppe, the big-hearted gastronome, the straight-talker, the nurse. The one who turns his hand to making pasta. And when things work and these two click, we would happily hoist the Jolly Roger and follow them to the ends of the earth.
LA RESERVE DE NICE
RdC du Palais de la Réserve
60 bd Franck Pilatte