Peter Mayle recalls living the carefree life with his wife in Southern France in A Year in Provence, sharing that there are many faces to the beauty of the area. The captivating views and food offerings change according to season. From a hearty, farmhouse-style New Year’s feast, to summer cherry picking followed by grape harvest in September, these events that sound like exotic fantasies are the authentic episodes of the daily life there.
Jérôme Roy, head chef of one Michelin-starred Le Cloître in Mane, sees the search for the regional fare as the essence of life.
“To me, Provençal cuisine is the food of the sun; I think of salad with basil and tomato, ratatouille, bouillabaisse and fragrant lamb chops grilled with thyme and garlic,” states Roy. “The produce is fresh, and the food is sumptuous, bursting with aroma. It reminds me of being on holiday.”
Roy believes he has a close connection with the ingredients he finds. At Le Cloître all produce is either homegrown—in the fields of La Couvent des Minimes Hôtel & Spa L’Occitane where the restaurant is located—or sourced from local farmers.
“Our regular suppliers are the food producers who live just outside Mane. I know them personally and thus how my ingredients are made, such as the goat cheese Banon,” he says. The Mediterranean climate also blesses Provence with distinctive seasons—each season offers something Roy loves.
“I use asparagus—green or white—in the spring. White asparagus is the star ingredient in three of my dishes—served cold with almond milk; steaming with butter, coconut milk and almond sauce, seasoned with tandoori spices, and finished with crab meat and its juice; and last but not least, grilled with masala sauce and rosemary and seasoned with lemon," shares Roy.
"Ratatouille is my favorite dish to make in summer! It’s made from frying local vegetables separately, then cooking them gently in tomato coulis,” he says. “I usually add ginger and chile and let it simmer for two hours. The local produce is so flavorful that only minimal seasoning is needed. The smells of lemon and citrus are enchanting as well. That’s why lemon juice, lemon peel and citrus sauce often make their way into my dishes.”
Provençal cuisine is obsessed with different types of native herbs, olive oil and garlic. Their brightness elevates the vegetables, meat and seafood freshly harvested from their habitat. Such combinations result in satisfyingly rich and colorful delicacies imbued with rustic characters.
Besides their exceptional taste, Roy thinks there is a healing side to the food of his home region, parallel to the calming views and therapeutic products it is known for. This is reflected in the soothing, invigorating styles of his gastronomic creations. Ingredients such as lavender and almond can be found in both his kitchen and the spa treatment at L’Occitane.
Here, Roy interprets the iconic elements used in Provençal cooking.
Provence is inseparable from lavender. The purple flower thrives in the Plateau de Valensole, as the fields turn into the glorious Routes de La Lavande every July, capturing the heart of countless tourists.
“I love using lavender as it represents Provence. But it’s actually quite challenging to put it in a dish, since it has such a unique taste,” he says. Roy infuses lavender in butter to create a sauce, which is drizzled on Sisteron lamb chops; the flavors of the ingredients blend together when grilled on an open flame. The cooked lamb chops are placed on a chickpea galette and sprinkled with Forcalquier saffron on top. The lavender sauce is the highlight of the entire dish, as its origin is proudly announced through the enticing floral notes.
No Provençal meal is complete without tapenade. An amalgamation of garlic, chopped anchovies, capers, olive oil, thyme and other herbs, the paste is appetizing and carries an acidic edge. While it is usually paired with bread, Roy crafts a wonderful marriage by putting tapenade atop Banon cheese, the tangy sauce cutting through the richness. Grapefruit, chard and olive oil serve as delicious final touches.
Every chef has their version for bouillabaisse, which makes this soup so mesmerizing. The commonality of its foundation comes from five to six Mediterranean fishes and a lengthy cooking process. The soup is usually served as an appetizer, accompanied by bread and the indigenous garlic and chile rouille sauce, with the cooked fish following as a main course. Roy reinvents tradition by presenting the soup in the same dish with grilled red mullet and mashed potato.
Compared to Asian cuisine, the almond occupies a different position in the realm of Provençal food. Roy employs roasted almonds as a support to his cod meunière. The fish is battered and then fried in butter until golden. The nuttiness of the almonds is magnified by toasting the nuts first, and is a pleasant contrast to the fish dressed in lemon and kale.
This article was written by Tang Jie and translated by Vincent Leung, and featured on the MICHELIN Guide Singapore website. Click here to read the original version of this story.