Paolo Sari is the chef of Monte-Carlo Beach in Monaco. In his Michelin-starred kitchen, the products he works with come from the surrounding area, all within a 150-km radius. Looking out at the great blue sea, he talks to us about his gastronomic choices and the links he weaves with his producers.
Paolo Sari waited for me at Monaco's port to show me his latest adventure. Dédé, his little fishing boat moored between two yachts, reminds me of Herbie from Walt Disney's mythic Herbie, the Love Bug series, which notably includes an episode that takes place right on the French Riviera. Dédé is the work vessel of Eric Rinaldi, the city's last fisherman, the heir to a family know-how and guardian of a traditional trade that seems all but destined to disappear — the principality counted only six remaining families of fishermen in the 1980s.
Through his organisation, Bio Chef Global Spirit, Paolo has committed himself to buying all of which Eric catches. Just a portion of the catch is sent to a local fishmonger, U Lavassu, located on the port, a few steps from the Yacht Club, so that all of Monaco's residents may enjoy the fresh fish.
With an air of a sailor who has weathered many a storm and the look of an enfant terrible, Paolo Sari is not what he may seem at first glance. As the chef of Monte-Carlo Beach, one of the most prestigious hotels in the French Riviera, he runs four restaurants — the gourmet restaurant Elsa, the seafood-centric La Vigie, the brasserie Deck and a wood-fired pizzeria — not to mention, he manages the service for the 300 tents and cabins scattered throughout the pine forest and along the private beach.
Having arrived in 2012, after prestigious experiences in the four corners of the world (in South Korea, China, Japan, and most notably in London, working at the Four Seasons under the Swiss maestro Anton Mosimann), he brought with him a new impetus for the cuisine of Monte-Carlo Beach, bringing it into tune with the environment in which it inhabits. The cuisine is thus inspired by the panorama: the sea offers fish, the steep hinterlands provide the vegetables. The dishes are imbued with the colours of Provence, while the cooking techniques preserve the flavours of the raw ingredients.
But poetry — including that of gastronomy — is a difficult exercise that demands work and discipline. Paolo has taken on the task of building an entire supply chain, as local as possible, to preserve the unique taste of this border territory between the sea and the mountains, between Liguria and Provence. It is a serious challenge, especially for a newcomer to the area. And if that was not enough, Paolo has added to the challenge by deciding that any product that enters his kitchen must come from organic farming, convinced that gourmet cuisine must also be healthy for the eater and for the planet.
Since 2013, Monte-Carlo Beach's restaurants have been certified organic; absolutely all of the ingredients are organic. In 2014, a Michelin star was awarded to the restaurant Elsa, attesting to the gastronomic value of the chef's choices. Today, provisions are procured within a radius of 150 km, from Provence to Liguria, passing through Cuneo in nearby Piedmont.
The produce comes from different terroirs, each adapted to certain types of crops, but also from diverse microclimates that make it possible to have fresh and ripe products throughout the seasons. An extraordinary feat in terms of volume, Monte-Carlo Beach's kitchens transform 150 tonnes of vegetables each year and serve over 1,200 covers each day during the high season.
After having renounced red meat — no large prairies feature into the principality's landscape — and having established a collaboration with a fleet of fishing boats to ensure a direct supply, Paolo helps to maintain the placement of Dédé in Monaco's port so that Eric can continue the practice of local, small-scale fishing.
This proud son of Venetia does not plan on stopping here. His next project is the creation of the first biodynamic agricultural field floating on the sea.... To learn more, you will have to head to Monaco from 12 to 15 October for the Route du Goût, a gastronomic and ecological event organised by Bio Chef Global Spirit.
PS. For fans of Herbie, the Love Bug, I saw Dédé ogling a Riva runabout. History, obviously, repeats itself...