The Chef at One of the World’s Top 10 Restaurants Talks Shop
Mauro Colagreco is the chef-owner of the two-Michelin-starred Mirazur in Menton, a small French town on the Côte d’Azur. The restaurant is situated on the border between France and Italy along the scenic Mediterranean shores. There is much ado in the press about Colagreco’s Argentinean-Italian heritage, which seems to take precedence over his own identity as an uber-talented chef. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Colagreco is now a bona fide French chef cooking in France. However, a recent appearance as a fluent Italian-speaking judge on Italian Iron Chef added to the ongoing debate. In this era of ratings and lists guiding diners on food voyages, it is no trifling matter that Mirazur rose to No. 6 on the World’s 50 Best List for 2016, which puts Colagreco as the top chef in France, over his mentor and former boss Alain Passard of L’Arpège at No. 19. Mirazur is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux community and has recently been added to the Les Grande Tables du Monde collection of fine restaurants.
Asked about this year’s upcoming awards in Melbourne and what he hopes for, he shared: “I have arrived in the first 10 on the list, which is extraordinary. It is the team’s reward for 10 years of efforts, passion, and evolution. This year I only hope to keep our place in the top 10, because I know there are many incredible restaurants in the world that have their place in the top 10.”
Over the years, Colagreco’s charisma and disarming honesty has drawn many chefs from all over the globe into his coterie of close friends. Last year Mirazur celebrated 10 years with 10 celebratory dinners, with some of the world’s top chefs taking command of the kitchens. The formidable talents included Massimo Bottura, of Italy’s Osteria Francescana; Rene Redzepi, of Denmark’s Noma; Virgilio Martinez, of Peru’s Central; Sébastian Bras, of France’s Maison Bras; and David Kinch, of California’s Manresa.
I was at Mirazur on a sunny morning as Kinch and Colagreco manned the barbecue, wine glasses by their sides, prepping for the first of the fabulous dinners, which would be followed two days later by Redzepi. In the ensuing six months, the dinner guests included many well-known chefs from France and other countries, who descended on Menton for these unique events.
Guests at Mirazur are greeted by stunning views over the Mediterranean and picturesque Menton, with visibility all the way to Monte Carlo in the distance. The terraced gardens on the 1930s property are a vision when in bloom, supplying the restaurant with a lot of its seasonal produce. The gardens are industriously maintained by the restaurant staff under the supervision of two gardeners and the chef himself. According to the residents of Menton, the enormous avocado tree on the property is one of the oldest in France; it is a sight to behold. The sunny Mediterranean climate makes it possible for Colagreco to source the freshest ingredients from around him, supplemented by daily forays to the Ventimiglia market a short hop away in Italy.
To say he is picky about his products is an understatement truly realized after accompanying him on these shopping trips. According to Colagreco, his cuisine is sans borders or frontiers, utilizing the best products of both the sea and land, dominated by bitter and acid tastes enhanced with herbs and flowers. Colagreco’s inventive cuisine at Mirazur even makes it possible to fall in love with a pumpkin dessert! Full disclosure: I have come to know the chef as a friend over the years and that probably influences the way I perceive his cuisine, but as a well-versed diner, I have to say it is as spectacular as the views of the sparkling Mediterranean from the restaurant.
Colagreco has been busy outside of Mirazur as well. The Grand-Coeur brasserie in Paris followed Mirazur in 2015 as an ode to Colagreco’s time spent in the city and his nostalgia for those days. He also ventured into China — first in Shanghai, and more recently with the Azur restaurant at Beijing’s Shangri-La Hotel. There are indications of a burgeoning hamburger empire after last year’s opening of Carne in La Plata near Buenos Aires. In March, Mirazur will pop up at the Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the jet-setting ski crowd. A new project at Courchevel Resort in the French Alps is also currently underway. Like most well-known chefs these days, he is constantly on the go, traveling to food events (one of his favorites is Gelinaz), for chef collaborations, or to his overseas operations.
The food industry has begun to focus on the stresses and hardships of life in restaurant kitchens and the challenges of running chef-owned restaurants. It is now acceptable for chef-owners to walk away within the first few months or years of opening as opposed to sticking it out. Most restaurants these days are backed by investors, some just dabbling in gastronomy as a hobby, while chefs are often not financially invested in the restaurant. In this context Colagreco’s story is an exception.
Mirazur was powered solely by a young chef with €25,000 in his pocket, a chef who bet on his own talent. Colagreco’s story is an inspiring example of struggle, survival, and success, sprinkled with two Michelin stars along the way. That an ode to bread by Pablo Neruda shows up at the table with the warm, crusty bread (accompanied by house-infused olive oils) points to the romantic in the chef, while the beautiful plates that follow reveal the soul of this culinary artist.
Colagreco — who spent five years at L’Arpège in Paris under the tutelage of chef Alain Passard, worked with Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée, and a year at Guy Martin’s Grand Véfour — tells the story of his beginnings.