How 3-star chef Mauro Colagreco is revitalizing dining on the French Riviera
In the south of France, few travelers look beyond the flagship cities of the Côte d’Azur of Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Monaco. But hop aboard the public train that jostles along the coastline and you’ll be amazed at the variety of small towns to explore along the way, each with its own history. Menton, the very last town before reaching the Italian border just five kilometers away, is one such place and it is here, at its flagship restaurant Le Mirazur, that the story of three-star Michelin chef Mauro Colagreco has took root before being propelled onto the world stage as one of the best chefs in the world.
From humble beginnings to three Michelin stars
Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Menton has everything one could wish for in a small French town: narrow lanes descending from a hilltop church, winding around picturesque squares and stone houses painted in sunny yellow, burnt orange and dusty pink. There’s also a daily food market on the waterfront and plenty of restaurants selling French and Italian classics. As pretty as the town is, the reason many visitors stop in Menton is to eat at Argentinian-born Mauro Colagreco. Mirazur where his inventive cuisine eschews influence, reflecting his love of diversity and travel.
Here, nature is abundant, and thanks to a microclimate, exotic plants and vegetables abound. But that’s not what first attracted the chef and Julia, his wife and wing wife, to this little corner of the south of France.
“I was 29, it was in 2006, I was in training in Paris, and I had heard that the former owner of this place was looking to sell”, tells me Mauro Colagreco, dressed in a white impeccable chef, as we sit at the table in his laboratory The door under the kitchens, admiring the panoramic view of sailboats gliding on the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. “He was willing to rent the place to me first. I mean, at the time, people were a bit wary of random chefs, even foreign chefs, coming to their town. We had a deal with the owner – if the restaurant was working, he’d sell it to me.”
Six months later, Colagreco receives its first Michelin star. Since then, the autodidact has only risen through the ranks, receiving three stars in 2019, and, months before Covid brought the world to a standstill, Mirazur was named the best restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best.
“When Mirazur had to close without any certainty of reopening one day, it was really hard – like for many people around the world, of course. Months and months passed without knowing what was going to happen – we had been named Best Restaurant in the World, which was a big achievement for me and the whole team, and we couldn’t even really celebrate, in fact, I got depressed, but at the same time, it made me start to rethink the way we do things.
Tick tock at the cycle of the moon
When the French government announced that restaurants could finally reopen, Colagreco jumped at the chance to change things. “After everything we’d been through, the world had been through, and the focus on our environmental impact, I knew we couldn’t reopen and go back to doing things the same way we did before Covid. I wanted Mirazur is more in line with nature and the environment. I needed to do something that would give me hope for the future, for my two children. I wanted to grow everything biodynamically, so, according to the rhythm of nature and the cycle of the moon.
While Colagreco has always focused on reducing the environmental impact of its restaurants by using mainly local products grown in its five gardens, the chef has turned his whole method upside down and joins forces with anthropologists, writers and botanists who work together to produce the exceptional transport you’ll find here. The Mirazur team has taken a more holistic, ecological and ethical stance towards agriculture, gardening, food and nutrition rooted in the works of philosopher and scientist Dr Rudolf Steiner, and this helps him bring something entirely new to the table on the Côte d’Azur but also on the French gastronomic scene as a whole.
“Our cuisine is generous, which was very important to me, through our four menus – root, leaf, flower and fruit – and depending on the cycles of the moon, you might only have one menu, like this week , which is root,” he says. “It makes so much more sense to work even closer to nature, at its own pace beyond the seasons. We are reducing our waste even more than before and using very little plastic – and we have a few certifications confirming our commitment.But the most important,my goal is not to earn more and more,it is not happiness for me.My goal is to do things the best I can,because for me,happiness , is to do things well and with great generosity.
Letting his words linger in the silent laboratory, we both stare silently smiling at the deep blue sea, breathing in the scent of the fragrant gardens below, and contemplating the new beginnings of the restaurant after this major change.
Change things inside and out
The redesign also includes a complete overhaul of the Mirazur interiors designed by Mauro and Julia with architect Marcelo Joulia. Completely open, the chef’s kitchen now occupies the entire ground floor of the Art Deco villa like a refined version of a Top Chef set, which you are immersed in as soon as you enter. There is a chef’s table in the space and the main dining area is up the spiral staircases and has windows running the length of the space which open to better admire the sea view framed by flowering palm trees.
You can taste the “root” menu, a ballet of dishes masterfully executed, presented and served, accompanied by wines and non-alcoholic potions concocted by master sommelier Magali Picherie and her team.
The products are impressive, like the giant beetroot from the chef’s garden, brought out by Head Waiter Damien Paty, on a bed of grasses and presented as a rare truffle – and for good reason, I was waiting to be discovered.
Carefully arranged like a flower on a plate sprinkled with caviar, the real focus nevertheless remains on the vegetable. Tender and tasty, its texture is fleshy with the caviar set back but reminiscent of our seaside location. Leeks and chanterelles are served with white turbot and black garlic, always featured on the root vegetable menu. And the star of the show is carrot and kumquat with tender pork cooked in an extract from each product.
“The goal is always to serve the best of everything,” explains the chef. “You don’t have to serve caviar or lobster with every dish to have your kitchen top of the line – producing excellent vegetables takes a lot of time and considerable effort, which makes them just as special and rare than a good caviar.”
From Menton to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Since Colagreco opened Mirazur, it has also opened the Pecora Negra pizzeria and Casa Fuego an Argentinian grill honoring the chef’s roots, which it will also open at Raffles in London, as well as Mitron, a historic restaurant bakery where he brings back old flours and 100% natural and organic artisanal pastries, putting Menton, a small town known for its annual lemon festival, on the map.
And he does the same with Ketoits ocean-focused restaurant at the recently opened Maybourne Riviera Hotel (Maybourne Hotel Group) next door in the unknown of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, where architects Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier built their modernist beach huts – which you can visit – and Coco Chanel hosted parties at her villa La Pausa, attended by Cocteau, Picasso and Churchill.
Under And Over The Sea at Michelin-starred Ceto
Seemingly hanging haphazardly from the mountain, the impressive Jean-Michel Wilmotte-designed hotel seems carved into the rock with a swimming pool overlooking Monaco, so you can hear the crowds Oh and aah on the court during the Rolex Tennis Masters which kick off the summer season. Former Vista Palace – revamped by Paddy McKillen, the Irish-born owner of Château La Coste winery and Villa La Coste hotel and artists’ residence – the Maybourne Riviera is a masterpiece, appearing like a mirage celestial shrouded in clear glass walls and balconies, creating the illusion that it is floating on the sea below.
Colagreco was brought in to oversee all but one of the hotel’s restaurants, all of which were fantastic – even in-room dining. Ceto, named after the constellation Cetus, sometimes referred to as Whale, is the restaurant that steals the show for its incredible setting overlooking the sea encased by the angular glass terraces of the Maybourne Riviera. A star winner in its first year, it’s run by chef André Moscardino and pastry chef Julieta Canavate, who rely on fish caught nearby and dried in the specially designed cold room, which you can admire through a window at the entrance to the restaurant. .
There is olive oil made from sea lettuce and Egiategia natural wine as well as Millésime Aquae malt whiskey from Maison Benjamin Kuentz, cradled by the ocean in the making, 20 meters below sea level. sea for four to five months in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country.
Among the specialties you can find on the menu, an artichoke salad with wakame and kumquat seaweed, grilled Camargue oysters on a bed of sorrel, and the highlight: tuna matured for 60 whole days and served with a mixture of kombucha and dried seafood. To finish, even the millefeuille is sea-focused and has a heart of nori seaweed with a vanilla and caramel sauce. Be sure to set aside enough time to enjoy the rhythm of the six-course menu and arrive early to start the experience with a cocktail at the new terrace bar which offers views of the coastline that veers towards Monaco and its flashing skyscrapers , before fleeing to more provincial France – and when the light is good, seeing the sky and the sea merge into one, indistinguishable from the other.
“Everything we do, whether at Mirazur, Ceto, Casa Fuego… our other venues in Paris and elsewhere, is centered on generosity and a deep respect for nature rather than just profit. Post-Covid, my beliefs about not compromising on products or sustainability were stronger than ever, and we don’t compromise,” says Colagreco. “People often say it’s impossible to be sustainable when running a business, but that’s not true at all. I believe that if you really want to do something, you can. And it’s as simple as that.