PARIS, Oct 19 — Chef Alexandre Couillon has a name that he himself admits “is not easy to carry”.
But the man whose surname translates as “Idiot” was named today as France’s cook of the year, having turned his family’s humble “moules frites” joint into one of the country’s best seafood restaurants.
His triumph is all the more remarkable because the restaurant is at the farthest end of the unpretentious island of Noirmoutier off France’s west coast, a favourite for bucket and spade family holidays.
The 40-year-old chef, who featured on the Emmy-winning Neflix show Chef’s Table last month, has built a worldwide reputation for the simple but ingenious way he cooks ingredients from his garden and the little fishing port of L’Herbaudiere his eatery overlooks.
The first year he and his wife Celine took over the then seasonal La Marine restaurant “we didn’t have a single customer one night in July”, Couillon told AFP.
“You don’t come here by accident. Now we have people coming 800 kilometres for dinner.
“It’s amazing... we have five or six emails from abroad every day to book tables next year,” the fisherman’s son added.
Dishes like black oyster poached in Colonnata lard with squid, sardine crackers and cauliflower ice cream and equally creative deserts using local seaweed won over the judges from the Gault and Millau guide who named him best chef.
The guide is France’s most trusted gastronomic benchmark after the Michelin guide.
Couillon, who has two Michelin stars, said the couple started with nothing. “We had pink tablecloths, old rush seat chairs and the cutlery came from a self-service place,” he recalled.
And he insisted success had not changed him. He would still be keeping things simple with “no snobbishness, no truffles nor caviar”.
“Nothing is going to change. I remain an artisan. I just want to get up every morning and keep that same pleasure of going to work,” said the father of two. — AFP