What happens when a chef and a wine maker go to France? Well, in this case, you get a gourmand getaway that provides so many wonderful experiences and memories that I have to share one with you right now.
Earlier this month, my best friend, Pallet wine maker Linda Donovan, and I set out to experience the specialty dishes and wines of the south of France. We were both hoping to discover exceptional tastes and regional secrets that would inspire us in our crafts.
Our first stop together was Marseille, birthplace of bouillabaisse, the famous French fish stew. What was once a simple fisherman’s dish made from the day’s leftover catch has been elevated to an art form with its own governing charter. Although there is a lot of room for interpretation, the Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter provides certain guidelines and traditions that must be upheld in order to ensure a high standard of quality.
Our first night in town, we dined in the old port at Le Miramar, one of the original restaurant charter members. There, a huge, steaming plate of seafood—weevers, dories, gunards, anglerfish, eel, crabs, and mussels—was brought to our table and displayed before us. It was then taken aside so that the staff could debone the fish and remove the shells from the crustaceans. In the meantime, we were brought delicious thick fish broth seasoned with saffron, garlic, and fennel. We were also left with a basket of crunchy crostini that we were instructed to rub with raw garlic cloves, top with creamy rouille, and add to our broth. Before long, the deboned and shelled seafood was brought back over and added to our individual bowls. Linda chose a 2014 Bandol rosé, Chateau de Pibarnon, to complement our meal, and it was a perfect pairing. The bouillabaisse, the service, the wine—the entire experience was outstanding!
Le Miramar provides the recipe for their bouillabaisse on their website. It is a relatively healthy meal as long as you control your portion size. I admit, I did not do a good job restraining myself the night we dined at Le Miramar, but when I make the bouillabaisse myself stateside, I intend to. The dish has also inspired me to create a new recipe incorporating the traditional soup flavors and rouille: Marseille Shrimp Soup. When I’ve ironed out the details, I’ll share that recipe as well. In the meantime, bon appétit!