LE COLLE SUR LOUP, FRANCE: Alain Llorca holds a special position in the pantheon of great, influential French Chefs. At his Michelin starred flagship restaurant, Alain Llorca in Le Colle sur Loup, just outside of Saint-Paul de Vence, he demonstrates emphatically why he is still one of the great chefs of France.
Michelin Star Chef Alain Llorca: The man and the legend
In a world of celebrity chefs who seem more like businessmen, Alain Llorca stands out. On a beautiful spring day Chef Llorca was in his open kitchen, cooking lunch. A brilliant, charming, humble man, he makes a point of greeting each guest at his restaurant at some point during the meal.
The ramparts of the ancient Roman village of Saint-Paul de Vence looms on the hilltop above. A verdant valley stretches out below all the way to the Mediterranean.
The restaurant commands a gorgeous position midway up the valley floor. A Mediterranean style structure, the interiors are all open spaces.
Alain Llorca Restaurant: A Grand Affair
A lovely lobby gives way to the open kitchen, surprisingly small for a major restaurant. It is there that Chef Llorca creates his magic, not as a celebrity chef, but a working chef, on the premises.
The interior dining room is a grand affair, with three artistic chandeliers spreading out across a beautiful room. It has the air of class and elegance.
A stunning terrace overlooks the valley floor and the village of Saint-Paul de Vence above. It is here that an afternoon of culinary glory is engaged with abandon.
Alain Llorca Restaurant: The Team
One key to Alain Llorca is his team of people around him. His wife Virginie helps to run the restaurant and hotel operations. She is a gracious host, greeting each guest and bringing a familial air to the proceedings.
Restaurant manager Frederick Mutter has been with Llorca off and on for decades. A genial, carefully tailored presence, he runs the afternoon with a commanding sense of joie de vi.
Sommelier Patrick Baroli has been with Llorca for 17 years. A native of the South of France his encyclopedic knowledge of wine is matched by his sparkling personality.
It is, in short, a family of people who collectively make dinner at Alain Llorca a truly special experience. The sense of purpose and connectivity is palpable.
Alain Llorca: The Michelin starred history
Alain Llorca made his name in the 1990’s as the Head Chef at the Moulin de Mougins, a landmark restaurant in the hill town of Mougins.
He was then head Chef at the magnificent Hotel Negresco, the 19th century gem along the promenade of Nice, for 7 years. He now runs a small empire of several restaurants from his perch here in Le Colle sur Loup. The restaurant is also a small hotel with 11 grand rooms.
Alain Llorca Restaurant: Lunch begins
Sitting at a lovely table on the terrace under brilliant blue skies a magnificent lunch begins. There is an air of anticipation in a setting of pure beauty.
Sommelier Patrick Baroli begins the affair with an exquisite appertif of Phillipponnat pink champagne. Founded in 1522, Phillipponat is one of the oldest champagne houses in France.
An amuse bouche of octopus fritters with a basil tomato dipping sauce is a fantastic starter. The octopus meat is tender, the fritter perfectly cooked, and is a nice contrast to the sweet sharpness of the sauce.
It is accompanied by a delightful onion tarte topped with anchovie. The pastry is light and airy, and the carmelized onion has an edge of salty taste from the anchovie.
Alain Llorca: Rolle white wine, stuffed zucchini and foie gras
The early courses are accompanied with a Bellet Saint Jean white wine from a small boutique vineyard in Nice. Made from the rolle grape, it is bracing and dry, crisp with an air of sweetness, but light, delightful, and easy to drink.
Zuchinni flower with black truffle stuffed with a zuchinni paste is sensational. Visually gorgeous, the layers of delicate taste unwind in each bite.
This is followed by an exquisite green asparagus with grilled foie gras in a brilliant sauce of hibiscus flowers and orange citrus.
Bursting with a fruity flavor profile, this is the perfect example of the contrast of ingredients. The spring asparagus is crisp, the foie gras perfectly grilled, and the swirl of citrus and hibiscus flower create a lusciously tantalizing sauce.
Alain Llorca: Grand Cru red wine, Grouper, and Filet
A 2010 Chateau Frombouge St Emilion Grand Cru from wine proprietor Bernard Magrez in an exceptional accompaniment to the main courses.
A blend of 70% merlot, and 28% Cabernet, it opens up magnificently, with a dry fruit forward brilliance that lingers on the pallatte.
Grouper with sliced artichoke heart in a fennel, basil and tomato sauce in a saffron flower broth is exceptional. It is almost vegetarian fusion cuisine with fish.
The grouper is tender and flaky, the artichoke slightly tart, and again, the combination of ingredients in the sauce is a flavor profile for the ages.
Again and again, Llorca surprises with divine haute cuisine that creates a contrast of tastes that are both original and fantastic.
Beef fillet poached in sea salt water is a taste triumph, the cooking method unusual, the taste sublime. Covered with a seaweed tartar, with a potato puff topped with black cavier, each morsel is a tender explosion of sublime fillet. The Chateau Frombauge is a perfect accompaniment to the beef, more elegant with each passing moment, opening up beautifully.
Alain Llorca Restaurant: Fromage and dessert
No fine dining in France is complete without the cheese course, and Alain LLorca is no exception. The south of France is rich with local goat and sheep cheeses, and cow cheese from near the Swiss border.
A selection of 6 goat, sheep and cow cheeses is phenomenal, accompanied with freshly baked olive bread. Each cheese has its own distinct finesse, each morsel a journey and story in itself.
The Sommelier Patrick Baroli complements the fromage course with a lovely wine made of 100% Grenache grape.
A delicious dessert of creamy red fruits, strawberry and raspberry, on a shortbread of fresh raspberries, is accompanied with a fabulous basil sorbet.
Michelin Star Chef Alain Llorca: Still legendary
The afternoon winds down, and the passing of three hours seems like the blink of an eye. Chef Llorca makes his way through the restaurant to thank his customers.
His wife Virginie joins him, and it is clear that how much the entire affair is a team effort, circling around the extraordinary talents of LLorca.
The search for grand culinary experiences is centered on authenticity, daring, and the ability to dazzle. Here at Alain Llorca all of those are found in spades.
The finest restaurants have the air of family about them. It says something about an establishment that the senior team has so many years together in pursuit of a common purpose.
After decades as a leading French culinary figure Alain Llorca maintains the dedication and humility of a rising star. Always giving his best effort, it is a testament that a chef of his stature is there every day, in the kitchen, serving his customers, even at lunch.
From Moulin de Mougin, to the legendary Hotel Negresco, and now to his own eponymous establishment, Chef Llorca is a towering figure in the culinary firmament. He honors all of us with his continued daily devotion to creating an expansive palette of exquisite Haute Cuisine.
Alain Llorca. www.restaurant-llorca.com @chefalainllorca
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Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds. @BigAlPeoplesPal