Dear friends of mine live in Paris. I had the good fortune to visit them over New Years and we headed to Normandy and Brittany to relax and frankly, to eat, over the holiday. The gastronomic history, ritual and delight of French food astonishes me each time I am lucky enough to experience it.
Brittany was a definite highlight of the trip – with a combination of rugged, gorgeous coastline and very good food. In Cancale, oyster beds run as far as the eye can see, with the delicacy growing in fast moving, aquamarine-colored, cold ocean water. Farmers drive a truck on the sand during low tide and the sky shifts through various shades of grey during the day.
In addition to good food, I truly love entrepreneurship. And in Brittany, I saw a successful entrepreneur running a business touching the depths of art and soul, tying-in the earth, ocean and humanity – talk about inspiring!
Olivier Roellinger is a poet, artist and master chef. His work combines the timeless relationship between man, land and sea – the core of Brittany itself — with acculturation and exquisite sensory taste. Roellinger is a former 3 star Michelin chef. He closed the restaurant in 2008, and he and his wife now own and operate several businesses including restaurants, small destination hotels, and spice markets. Spices remain a passion and he manufactures and sells them through stores in Cancale, Saint-Malo and Paris. More about his current operations is here on his web site.
My friends and I had a memorable lunch at his restaurant, Le Coquillage on the ground floor of Le Chateu Richeux. I am having trouble finding an English word that sums up the atmosphere, quality, richness, reverence and art of it all. He draws it all in — fresh seafood, local ingredients, exotic spices from India, and exquisite preparation — while appealing to humanity’s elemental connectedness to the sea. I loved visiting his spice store in St. Malo, walking the cliffside grounds of Le Chateux Richeux and beach below, and dining at Restaurant Le Coquillage.
Here are some pictures from our meal:
Roellinger gave a lecture last year at the MAD Symposium, an annual event in Copenhagen started in 2011 consisting of presentations from chefs, farmers, academics, thinkers, and artists. His passionate speech touches upon the reverberating threads of my adventures in Brittany, his homeland.
Here are excerpts from the talk that stood out for me. He is truly a poet and master artist!
Oysters, mussels, prawns, lobsters, and crabs; John Dory, bass, sole, and abalone; salt-field lamb, small potatoes, leeks, artichokes and asparagus from the Mont Saint Michel Bay—all of these came through our kitchen. After two years, my desire to live bounced back. [He was severely attacked as a young man and confined to a wheelchair for two years.] I wanted to tell stories of the joy of living between the sea and the sky. But I was neither a painter nor a musician, and even less, a writer—I was a scientist. I understood that sharing my joy for life would mean opening my home and my Table.
But I had never touched a pot! I was twenty-four years old. My second source of motivation came when I met Jane, the woman who would become my wife.
My interest in the subject goes beyond just the discovery of the oceans: it is really about the question of Why people have valued spices so much, something that goes all the way back to the age of the Egyptian Pharaohs? This question fascinates me, but I don’t have the time to answer it today. The important thing for every one of us is not to spread ourselves too thinly… I try to work in harmony and in resonance with these places on the planet, without saying too much about it, to the people who come to taste my cuisine.
After technical super-performance and all its scientific accents, and everything that is so much more than natural and local, can’t we just make our way back to the basics of cuisine itself? That is, the nourishment of other people, linking a rigorous focus on taste, and the present knowledge of health, in an effort to redefine what “good” really means? Maybe that means even calling upon our primal instincts, as Paul Gauguin did when he painted between impressionism and abstraction.
I cannot cook elsewhere than in this region of farmers, fishermen, and sea adventures. As to the question of how I situate myself as regards French Cuisine, I have always answered that I feel closer to the chefs of the Sea and the Ocean than to the chefs in Burgundy (which is in the center-East of France).
Out near the sea, just as in this Viking territory that is Denmark, all of us look out to the horizon; the infinite—this horizon that pulls on us like a magnet, out to the beyond. The sea is a conveyor belt, bringing humans together, while the Earth separates.
Looking at the sea, we wonder if we’ve just arrived, but we know that we could leave tomorrow.
The ocean is our most beautiful pantry, but it is often in danger.
All along the cliff sides are wild herbs and seaweed; and sheltered from the wind, a little garden-kitchen. And then there is this constant desire to leave in order to come back someone better, or, of this message in a bottle that can land at your feet and in your kitchen, containing seeds, bark, leaves, and roots, all from another coastline, with another sun.
In reality, just like music, painting, and literature, cuisine doesn’t have a border or a national flag; Cuisine is something different from football.
It is a minor art, close to poetry but which plays the fundamental role of extending life in every corner of the planet.