One day they’ll make a film of Marc Meneau’s life – you couldn’t make it up, Depardieu will play him to perfection. Fiesty, sexy, talented, tough, difficult. He’s no stranger to film sets, so he could supervise. Remember all that wonderful food in Sophia Coppola’s flick Marie Antoinette? All created by Meneau, except the Laduree macaroons. And also the movie Vatel, France’s 17th century superchef who ran a knife through his rognons when fish for his banquet didn’t show up.
So the first thing you want to know having tasted Meneau’s exquisite cuisine (more of that later) is, where did you learn to cook like this? Meneau sits back in his chair, lights a cigar, looks into the distance that is his beloved Burgundy. “I was never an apprentice, my mother had an epicerie/cafe in this village, and obviously I helped her. I learned from books, that’s why some have scoffed at me, saying, “call yourself a chef baf”. What he did do is take advise and watch cook three top chefs of the 1970’s Alex Humbert of Maxim’s who, on visiting L’Esperance threw everything out of Meneau’s kitchen and made him begin again. Andre Guillot of Auberge de Marly in the Yvelines and Lionel Besnard, chef to the Shah of Iran.
With his wife Francoise, Meneau bought L’Esperance, yards from the little family cafe-epicerie and together they created one of the most beautiful hotel/restaurants in France. He won thre-stars, lost one and is now a 2-star. “No idea why I lost the star, never saw it coming”, nor did he see he was spending like crazy and a few years ago went belly-up. “Not being in Michelin was tough, although we kept going”, he says. 2008 saw him back in the red guide, celeb clients booking all the rooms and business good.
Meneau creates continuously, his signatures are Cromesqui de Foie Gras, “which explodes in your mouth, like a sexual experience”, and the sublime Huitres en gelee a l’eau de mer”. Asked how he defines his cuisine he says it’s inventive and traditional. As in Consomme of wild duck with Rostie of Perles du Japon (tapioca). Slow cooked river sander, foam of watercress and frogs legs. And herbed and delicate Bresse chicken, cooked in a paper bag to keep all the flavour in. Cheese from Mr. Antoni comes with a crispy celery and apple salad. Stunning pumpkin soufflé for dessert, the pumpkins fresh from the potatger.
Asked which dish he is most proud of: “The last I created and the next”, answers this unique man who, to get inspiration for new dishes. read the complete works of Victor Hugo, underlining all references to food on the way. Other dishes have been created listening to Opera, and making love (the cromesquis!). “Cooking is a way of opening my mind to other things”, he admits. “But food feeds the mind, too”.
He’s a big man is Meneau, serves magnums of his Bourgogne Vezelay wine, or invites you for a casse-croute in his vineyards, in case you’re hungry before lunch. He taught himself winemaking after supervising the planting of old family vines.
L’Esperance is now a wonderful sprawling estate, with rooms and suites along hidden paths in the middle of enchanted flower and herb gardens. Either sleep in the magnificent manor house or ask for No. 340 Serge Gainsbourg slept there, and Rostropovich next door. Meneau misses them both, is glad his copains Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Dutournier are still around.
Come here for an elegant experience, wonderful food and a chance to discover Vezeley and beautiful Burgundy
Relais & Château,
89450 Saint Pere en Vezelay,
T : 03 86 33 39 10
Frederique Grasser Herme aka FeGH author, food agitator (ex-wife of PH) is the first Frenchie to the lift trophy “Premier Prix Special du Jury” at Sicily’s 11th Cous Cous Festival.
Ann-Sophie Pic presented Le Meurice’s Yannick Alleno with the trophy “Chef of the Year” 2008, this week at Pavillon d’Armenonville. Le Chef magazine organise this sumptuous event annually and there must have been about 400 top toques slapping Yannick on the back. Ms Pic was last years’ winner. Alleno recalls being a young apprentice when Michel Bras won the award. “I never in my wildest dreams thought one day it would be mine”, he grinned. “I dedicate this to my darling three stars, my wife and two sons”, he said. Previous winners include Thierry Marx, Olivier Roellinger, Michel Trama and Philippe Legendre.
If you despair of ever getting a reservation chez Daniel Rose’s Spring, the news is that he’s moving to 6 rue Bailleul, 1st (Les Halles area) in March. He plans a brilliant table d’hote formula. If you want to try your luck at 23 rue d’Auvergne 9th call 01 45 96 05 72
About 42€ dinner, and lunch on Thursday and Friday at 1pm.
Of his time spent with Yannick Alleno at Le Meurice, Rose says: “When you work at a three-star restaurant, you’re driven to maintain your stars at all costs. It wasn’t for me, it was boring. Yannick Alleno’s fine, but it wasn’t a great atmosphere. It’s doing time so that you can have it on your C.V. You learn a lot, but it’s very aggressive”.