by Jaques Gantié
At 15, we are a “teen,” a hope, a young sprout; we have already kept some promises and made no small number of mistakes. We feel ambitious, we don’t accept advice; but who cares? Life lies before us!
For a gastronomic guide, 15 years is simultaneously expertise-in-its-infancy and a hell of a long road traveled. Are we obliged to celebrate it while, from the summit of its 97 editions, the Michelin Guide (supreme judge which rates avidly but writes little) approaches the status of venerable ancestor? Is it really reasonable to bring to mind that we are 15 years old and that we have indeed traveled quite a bit already, have praised, criticized, failed and sometimes acquired a bit of recognition?
Without making a big deal about the birthday … after all, why not? Everything moves very quickly today, and it seems to me that a marker of this kind remains necessary to frame a gastronomic countryside that is more and more open.
The year 2006 was certainly no more “the year of all perils” than was 2005, but it marks a reversal that quite a few restaurateurs have not accounted for. The state of mind, the buying power, the habits, the times, and the desires of the customer-consumer have changed. This is not big news, but some pretend not to notice. I have often written that this region, which I love and which I champion, needs to stop believing it is specially chosen by the gods, perched on an untouchable planet as far as tourism and gastronomy go. It’s time to be done with certainties, to re-examine certain behaviors, to temper prices, to open more to the world – not necessarily to modes and concepts – to adapt, and to invent. People today have a desire for quality, clarity, and new ideas, not for conventional cuisines or those attached to the past for its own sake. We need identity, not protectionism; rootedness, but also imagination; tradition without fear of openness.
We can see that the restaurant industry is “bustling.” Proof? Never have we listed as many changes as this year: transfer of chefs, restaurateurs who throw in the towel, others who change course or try adventures elsewhere, but also young talents who are not discouraged by the somewhat depressive spirit of the times. For a guide, it’s simply a little more exciting to follow than in other years, whether our observation post is in Provence, on the Côte d’Azur, in Paris, or in Italy’s provinces of Liguria and Piedmont.
Thus, you will note an increase in reserved judgments and suspended ratings, since the movements often happen at the end of the winter. In this “stove tango” context, the informed reader will have noted that this “late” guide (as is said of some vintages) has an advantage over some of our national colleagues: it is updated truly as Spring approaches. Two examples: in March, Jean-Luc Rabanel left La Chassagnette in the Camargue to take Arles and his town-center spot; and Dominique Bucaille, having given up his restaurant in Monosque, left the Alpes de Haute Provence entirely to dock in Cap d’Antibes at the Hôtel Imperial Garoupe. This guide was the first to make note, among other movements and novelties, of these reconsiderations. And also these: In Nice, an insolent and talented Italo-Finlandic combination (Jouni, who we discovered in 2003) wins the most beautiful location in town, close to the Port (the ex-Réserve); in the Var, in Seillans, Hermance Carro, 28-year-old star of the tele-reality cooking show on M6, creates Le Relais d’Oléa from the vestiges of an old Michelin-rated hotel. Once more, ideas and audacity that bear following.
Yes, everything is moving, and for our 15 years we have but the road traveled, but pitfalls and the patience required to produce a heartfelt and literary guide, in the region, when no one, in 1992, gave much for the survival of the runt of the litter. That same year, Henri Gault, who unexpectedly prefaced an as-yet-confidential first edition, politely desired to note “a competence, a mastered impertinence, an alert and independent pen,” adding, “doubtless these commentaries and discoveries will become those of esteemed colleagues whose articles and guides will expand oddly, tomorrow, from the Southern coast, an irritating proof that this guide has won its wager.”
We don’t believe a word of it, of course, but thanks again to the dearly departed who, with Christian Millau was, as we know, present for the birth of many of the discoveries and revolutions in cuisine during the 1960s and 70s. And good luck to our coming editions, which will be (with the help and patience of the team on which I depend, and due to the loyalty of our readers and to the new fervor of our English-speaking friends) as exciting to produce as the ones we have done. All of this anticipating the one which will be, ultimately, the best. The 100th of course!