Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Idyllic La Bastide de Marie could easily be a setting for a French Provençal novel. The driveway is lined with towering Italian cypress trees; the land is dotted with fragrant lavender plants, and the 57-acre vineyard is filled with grape varietals ripe for wine. The 15-guest room estate sits in the same town where author Peter Mayle once wrote his famous, A Year in Provence. Charming Ménerbes is found in the heart of Luberon Nature Park, and many would say Mayle’s novel put the pastoral town on the map. However, long before bestsellers beckoned tourists from afar, local cheesemongers, farmers, and bakers honed their craft and peddled their goods.
Today, that tradition continues, and it’s what La Bastide de Marie chef François Martin most respects about his home and neighbors in Ménerbes. After all, these are the men and women charged with creating and caring for the products that eventually become his ingredients. He relies on the town’s farmers and growers to direct his selections for his restaurants. “I have the chance, every day, to cook using fresh products, selected in the morning from the surrounding fields and orchards,” he says. It’s an appreciation he sharpened under the tutelage of famed Michelin Star chef Marc Veyrat while working at L'Auberge de l'Eridan. “I discovered a cuisine based on wild mountain herbs that we would pick every day.”
Now helming La Bastide de Marie, he’s proud of his friendships with local artisans and speaks fondly of the people who nurture his ingredients. “It establishes an exchange to know their way of working, to discover their products, and later to highlight them in cooking,” he explains. For Chef Martin, cooking is not simply creating recipes with the best and most expensive ingredients; cooking is cultivating relationships with the land and its people. It’s the ultimate homage to his home and his craft.
Tell us about how and when you developed your passion for cooking.
I have always loved to eat and to taste ingredients since I was young. Gathering around a table, surrounded by my family and people I love, has always been precious to me.
How does Provence inspire and guide your choices when you create a menu?
In Ménerbes, there are many small local producers—market gardeners, cheesemakers, and breeders—who all work in sustainable agriculture and organic farming. We have at our disposal a multitude of exceptional products. I am lucky because within a 20-kilometer [12-mile] radius, I have people ready to produce vegetables exclusively for La Bastide de Marie.
Describe a typical day at La Bastide de Marie. How do you begin your day? What is the first thing you do when you arrive in your kitchen? What is the last thing you do before you leave?
I spend every morning at 7 a.m. at the baker's to get fougasses [a type of Provençal bread] for breakfast. On the way, I get my vegetables for the day at the producers and then go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. The first thing I do when I arrive in the kitchen in the morning is unload the vegetables from my car, wash my hands, light the stove, and greet the team. Before leaving at night, at the end of the service, I give the instructions for the next day. Then I place orders to my suppliers and thank my team. Good relationships with my team are important for a good atmosphere in the kitchen.
What defines French cuisine, and what is surprising about it? How are French chefs different from chefs in other parts of the world?
For me, French cuisine is rich in diversity and in products. Each region has a terroir, an identity, of its own. There is no difference between French chefs and other foreign leaders in cuisine because we are all very inspired by what we do. Each cuisine draws on its culture in its country of origin. It is the whole richness of cooking!
What do you hope people say about your restaurant after they leave?
I think the art of the table, the environment, the service, the welcoming staff, and of course the food, are inseparable from each other. Because of that, guests leave La Bastide having lived an unforgettable experience and wishing to come back to see us. The most beautiful reward is when the team and I have the chance to hear from our guests their opinions, feelings, and emotions—when they are eager to come back alone or with family, or introduce the place to their friends in summer or during the end of the year holidays.
What is your favorite meal to prepare at home?
At home, I am lucky to have children who eat everything. When I have the opportunity, I prepare dishes in a simmering sauce, such as veal blanquette, lamb shoulder confit, or beef tongue—all accompanied by seasonal vegetables.
What do you hope to pass on to the future generation of chefs?
I hope I am successful passing along my passion to my team by showing them how to work with beautiful products, to find a harmony of flavors, and to learn a mastery of seasoning. I also hope to teach them that in this business, you have to know how to remain humble and respectful of what nature offers us. And of course, to have a passion for cooking.
Grilled Vegetables of Provence “a la Plancha” for two
1 yellow zucchini
1 green zucchini
4 cherry tomato clusters
Fleur de Sal or fine sea salt
1 ¼ tbsp olive oil from Baux de Provence
1 tsp of Kalamata olive paste
2 branches of wild thyme
¼ tsp balsamic vinegar
• Preheat oven to 320F°
• Wash and dry vegetables, then julienne.
• Season them with olive oil and salt and let marinate for five minutes.
• Arrange them on the plancha (or cast iron griddle) for three minutes each side.
• Put them on a pan in the oven at 320F° for three minutes.
• Remove from the oven and arrange on a serving dish.
• Combine the olive paste, wild thyme, and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over vegetables.