When it comes to food, the French Riviera is all about the traditional cuisine of Provence. Juicy olives, oodles of garlic, tomatoes and pungent Provençal herbs grace tried and tested recipes, handed down over generations to delight today’s sun-soaked restaurant-goers.
However, delicious though time-honoured Provençal dishes may be, cuisine in the South of France is not really very ‘now’. Despite many fine restaurants and enough Michelin stars to light it up on a (rare) cloudy day, the Cote d’Azur is seldom associated with cutting-edge fine dining. Thanks to a recent magazine commission, I have discovered that this is changing.
Young blood: new chefs on the French Riviera
The airline BMI has just opened a new route from London to Nice, and the latest edition of their in-flight magazine, Voyager, featured a new wave of kitchen talent apparently springing up on the Cote d’Azur.
I was assigned to take portraits of the hot chefs of the moment, and devise food photography of their creations tempting enough to lure hungry aircraft-bound passengers into planning their next trip to the South of France.
Foraging in the woods
What do these chefs in Nice, Cannes and the Var have in common? Their fresh take on Provençal cuisine.
They either invent new dishes using local ingredients, or wake up traditional recipes with exciting new flavours, textures, or different cooking processes.
Mickaël and Gaël Tourteaux, brothers and chefs at Flaveur in Nice, take their love of Provence to extremes and go foraging in the woods twice a week to find borage, wild asparagus and other tasty forest morsels to bring back to their kitchen. But alongside these local ingredients, their dishes include unrecognisable exotic vegetables, and sauces inspired by flavours from their childhood in Guadeloupe.
France’s ‘Top Chef’
3 of the 4 chefs I photographed sport a much-coveted Michelin star, and the other, Stéphanie le Quellec, at only 28 yrs old, won Top Chef, a popular French TV cookery competition, last year. She bagged a big prize for her approach to cooking and is apparently into, amongst other things, mixing raw with cooked ingredients in her take on traditional Provençal dishes. I can verify that the gorgeous cep mushroom topping the dish that Stéphanie prepared for me was pretty much still breathing, astonishing in its freshness.
Working up an appetite
Working as a food photographer with finished dishes is entirely unlike being on the ‘coal face’ end of the food spectrum. Time, control and stillness make for a very different experience from, for example, photography of truffle hunters or my reportage on the production of foie gras.
It would be an understatement to say that I worked up an appetite as I photographed these signature dishes, carefully created by the chefs before my eyes and brought out steaming from the kitchen.
The buzz reaches New York
As I was drafting this post yesterday, I got a call from the New York Times. My client at the travel desk needed a photographer to shoot images for a forthcoming feature on … you guessed it, upcoming new restaurants on the Cote d’Azur.
The article ‘Choice Tables: A New Wave on the French Riviera‘ raves about two of these same restaurants, Flaveur (Nice) and Mon Rêve De Gosse (Cannes). So I shall be back to see what Gaël and Mickaël found in the woods again next week. And discover two more of the chefs who are apparently bringing an updated Provençal cuisine into the spotlight.
It seems that the scribbled list of restaurants numbers I have in the back of my diary is going to become hot property. Watch this space..