Ocean Independence - A Conversation with Chef Mauro
World renowned and celebrity endorsed, the acclaimed Mirazur Restaurant in Menton needs no introduction. Established in 2006 by Argentinian Chef Mauro Colagresco, the setting augments his innovative cuisine where clientele can soak up far-reaching views across the achingly beautiful Mediterranean. Within six months Chef Mauro gained the prestigious Galt Millau ‘Revelation of the Year’ award, shortly followed by his first Michelin star before the year was out. By 2019 this totaled an impressive three Michelin stars and Mirazur was topping the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
With a host of immaculate dishes sure to tease and tantalize, the restaurant attracts serious connoisseurs and novice gastronomes alike, and is often a highly desirable stop during a French Riviera yacht charter.
Declaring his ongoing motivation to evolve and an enduring desire to learn, Chef Mauro exclusively speaks of his drive and passion, alongside his dream to put environmental concerns at the center of his creations.
Tell us about your earliest memories of flavors and aromas.
Chef Mauro: I was lucky to have grown up in a family who believed the table is something very important for sharing. It really is part of the culture of my family. I was born in the city La Plata, but my great-grandparents lived in the countryside. My great-grandfather grew his own vegetables, and I remember the first tomatoes that I tasted, still warm from the sun. Food was a big part of summer holidays and special occasions. My great-grandfather cooked a pork saddle, marinated for a day in the famous Argentinian sauce chimichurri, which has a lot of chilies, olive oil and vinegar. Every time I smell chimichurri, I remember those wonderful days.
My family has an Italian background, so we ate a lot of pasta. I remember the ravioli made by my mother Amalia. She would prepare the filling with spinach and ricotta cheese, and the secret ingredient I learned was a little bit of pig’s brain! She would serve these raviolis with a fantastic home-made tomato sauce, made from the tomatoes growing outside. This was one of my best meals. You know, the memories of food are not just about the taste, it is the whole ambience, the pleasure of being with family and good friends.
What was your first experience of the sea?
I remember being by the Atlantic coast in Argentina, in a place called San Bernardo, where there were strong ocean currents. I remember fishing with my father there. We caught small fish with a net – it’s kinder to the fish! After a few hours, we fried our catch and the taste was very good. When I arrived in France, I tasted oysters for the first time – I was 23 years old. It was a very strong taste for me and a bit of a shock, but this experience is still in my memory and now I love oysters!
What about the food you experienced when you travelled?
I was very lucky that as a small boy I travelled a lot with my parents. In Argentina, the food cultures of the north and south are very different. We travelled to Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America. I was open to the different tastes. Argentina is a little traditional, it’s very European, so the taste is something similar to the Mediterranean diet. But when you travel to Brazil, or the north of Argentina, or Colombia, you feel a hint of Africa with a meat-based diet. My palate started to develop during these early days.
When did you consider becoming a chef?
It was by chance because I never thought about it when I was young. I first studied literature, and then economics for two years, because my father was an accountant. I tried to continue in my father’s business, but accountancy was not really my passion. A friend who had opened a restaurant asked if I could help. At the time I did not think I would carry on cooking for the rest of my life, but that is when I discovered my own passion for cooking. It was a very special restaurant because he was a personal chef to a famous musician. All the artists came to the restaurant and they played music - it was a very nice atmosphere. I decided to continue to learn to cook, and to go to Europe to discover French cuisine.
Tell me about your experience over the past 18 months.
When COVID arrived last year, I had acquired three Michelin stars and other top accolades, and then - boom - everything was black! Energy levels went down, and everything closed. The shock for the first few weeks of lockdown was very difficult to deal with. But in another sense, I was lucky – I could spend time with my family at home and in our big garden. I started to feel more relaxed, more natural. I was spending wonderful time with my sons. I was cooking at home for them, and it was a time of sharing, doing different things and being in extremely close contact with the garden and nature. I was outside working in the garden being extremely busy every day, and it was a kind of the detoxification. I found a really good balance in my life. And then many months later, we started to talk about reopening the restaurant. This was a difficult period for me as I couldn’t imagine reopening as if nothing had happened.
Is this how your new menu came about?
Yes - we needed to relaunch with positivity, enthusiasm and a new, unique menu! I wasn’t feeling the energy two or three weeks before the opening, but I was working with my team in our inspiring garden space, and the idea came to me that we could follow a lunar calendar! It has four phases - for roots, leaves, flowers and fruit. I arrived at my home and said to my wife Julia, I was opening soon, and we need to make dishes focusing on roots, leaves, flowers and fruit. She thought I must be crazy to do this just a few weeks from reopening and after being awarded three Michelin stars.
I called my team together and two weeks later, we opened the restaurant with four menus! The problem with the lunar calendar is change does not happen every week or two weeks - change is every few days. So, we must change the whole menu every few days. The entire restaurant has to change everything - the dishes, the plates, the layout and decoration of the table - this is a huge amount of work. All the changes gave us a new energy. We reached our goal of serving a new, exciting and dynamic menu.
The influence of the moon is strong on our planet. The universe and the stars were created before humanity. We look at the night sky and we feel energized, and we recognize the importance of the universe and of our own planet. I think we must protect nature and become more engaged with the natural world around us.