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Insider's view · Europe · france · French Riviera

Insider: Christophe Dufau

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Insider: Christophe Dufau

My foie gras is monkfish liver”

“My mother said I'd never get a Michelin star because my restaurant doesn't have classic napkins or silverware. When I did receive the star, I called her and said, 'See, Michelin has changed,'” laughs Christophe Dufau, the star French chef whose restaurant Les Bacchanales is a destination in its own right. Les Bacchanales is located on the outskirts of the French town of Vence, just across from the legendary Chapelle du Rosaire, whose interior was created by Henri Matisse and which the artist considered to be his life's masterpiece. The restaurant's home is a historical Belle Epoque building surrounded by a garden overflowing with all imaginable herbs lusciously growing in between sculptures and art installations. Dufau transitions adeptly between the dining room tables and the garden, and he actually seems more like a rock star than a chef. In any case, it's hard to imagine a more appropriate name for this place then Les Bacchanales.

Born in southern France to a family of vintners and sent to chef school at age 14, Dufau has managed to work in a wide variety of situations: he worked in London for two years, he has prepared food for military officers and the French Minister of Defence, and he lived in Denmark for nine years, where, among other things, he worked in a restaurant that was open only in the summers and completely changed its image each year. In order to accomplish such a feat, Dufau spent the other six months of the year travelling around the globe – Malaysia, America, China, Spain, Italy, etc. – in search of gastronomic inspiration. And then he returned to France and opened a small restaurant in the town of Tourrettes. He received a Michelin star but then sold the establishment in order to open a place in Vence – Les Bacchanales – that more precisely embodies his feeling for environment and gastronomy. He created the interior together with his wife, who is a Spanish jewellery artist, and with other artist friends. The cuisine at Les Bacchanales is rooted in the traditions of Provence (albeit with Dufau's own special touch), changes with the seasons and makes use of local produce. “When I go to a restaurant, the most important thing for me is that when I close my eyes and eat I know what part of the world I'm in. Terroir. If everyone uses one and the same ingredients, it becomes boring. For example, I do not use foie gras in my cuisine because goose liver is not characteristic of Provence's cuisine. My foie gras is monkfish liver,” says Dufau, adding that the most important thing for a restaurant is to live for today. “French cuisine changes, too, just like Michelin.”

Why do you enjoy living on the French Riviera?

I like the climate. Even though I was born in southern France, unlike here, the winters in the town where I was born are always very bad and life pretty much stops during that season. Here the season is very long. In addition, there's a great variety of vegetation considering the relatively small area. 20 kilometres from the sea and you're already 300 meters above sea level. Another 20 kilometres inland and you're already at 900 metres. When one ingredient goes out of season at sea level, it comes into season here, and a month later it's in season further up in the mountains.

Next to cooking, my second passion is diving. I go diving every other day from March to November. There are wonderful places here, particularly in the Antibes and Èze area. I dive to 15 metres, and it's just insanely beautiful!

I also very much enjoy the traditional cuisine of Provence. By the way, Côte d'Azur is one of France's most traditional regions. The locals do not like fancy food, and it's very important to them what they eat. It took at least four years until I was accepted; at first they considered me too pretentious. But Côte d'Azur is changing, too.

What are some of your favourite restaurants along the Côte d'Azur?

When friends come to visit, I always take them to La Merenda in Nice (4 Rue Raoul Bosio, 06300 Nice; lamerenda.net). It's a small restaurant with traditional Niçois cuisine. The owner was the chef at the Le Negresco hotel restaurant when it was awarded two Michelin stars, but he left it because he was tired of it all, and so he opened this small place. It has no telephone and also does not accept credit cards. If you want to make reservations, you have to stop by in person.

When I feel like having some real gourmet food, I go to L'Hostellerie Jérôme (20 Rue du Comté de Cessole, 06320 La Turbie), which is in La Turbie, a small town right before Monaco.

If you want to enjoy some wonderful fish dishes, I recommend Le Bistrot de La Marine (96 bd de la Plage 06800 Cros-de-Cagnes; www.bistrotdelamarine.com). It belongs to the well known French chef Jacques Maximim, and there are only fish dishes on the menu.

Café de Turin (5 Place Garibaldi, 06300 Nice; www.cafedeturin.fr) is a classic, simple and already legendary restaurant in Nice for times when you fancy oysters or other seafood.

Le Bistrot do Fromager (29 Rue Benoît Bunico, 06000, Nice) – a very simple and great restaurant specialising in cheeses. It has a brilliant chef!

And Le Vinivore (10 Rue Lascaris, 06300 Nice; www.vinivore.fr) is a great place for wine lovers. The chef masterfully pairs wines to foods, and you can also taste a huge variety of wines by the glass.

What are your favourite stops along the Côte d'Azur?

I like the Chapelle du Rosaire, or Matisse's chapel, very much. I go there once a month just to relax and catch my breath. Most often in the afternoons. I like the colours and light there, especially in September, when they are particularly magical.

Fondation Maeght is a fantastic place for lovers of nature and art.

I think one of the most special and unusual places along the French Riviera is the Fernand Léger museum. It's located in Biot, a very beautiful town famous for its glass artists. The museum, however, is very rough and almost industrial, both the exterior and the interior, but that corresponds to Léger's style.

Every other month I head to the town of Imperia in Italy to buy fish for my restaurant, and that's a journey in and of itself. If friends have come to visit, they always accompany me. It's about an hour's drive to there from Nice.

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