“Thank God you didn’t come earlier!” says Marc Veyrat, with a smile, on Wednesday 1 April. A sense of humour; perfect for April Fools Day. It is a sign indicating that the longhaired Savoyard chef is a sturdy boy, always ready to fight against bad luck.
Flashback to two weeks before, at the dawn of the 17 March. Marc was a shattered man, in tears, wrapped in a blanket to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Sobbing down the phone, observing powerlessly as the flames engulfed Maison des Bois, his culinary lab. During the night of Monday through to Tuesday morning, a fire, caused by a short circuit, reduced his life’s dream to ash.
After a promising past, including a—thus-far—ground-breaking thirty-year career, which broke the mould, he had planted his roots in Manigod, a native village close to the hill of Croix-Fry.
After selling Ferme de Mon Père in Megève, France, and the house by the lake in Annecy (the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France), where the seasonal Savoyard chef was awarded all the prizes on Earth (two Michelin stars and an unprecedented perfect 20/20 from the Gault Millau) he survived a terrible skiing accident in 2006 that almost cost him one of his legs.
At the end of 2013 Veyrat opened his new ‘life hermitage,’ which was built by his own hands (“Nowadays it’s important to be able to do everything, from cooking to designing and building houses,” says the chef) in the heart of the mountains where he was born. La Maison des Bois is a luxury Relais & Châteaux hotel, restaurant and centre of for the culinary study of wild herbs.
From the early eighties, ‘le Marco,’ as he is known to his friends, was the first chef to promote the berce (Cow parsnip), serpolet (wild thyme), Chénopode Bon-Henri (also known as Good-King-Henry and mountain spinach, among other names), pimpiolet and other herbs of the Savoyard mountain pastures for cooking. A magnificent cuisine made of explosive and natural flavours, miles away apart from the academicism and traditional style of French cuisine. A visionary green revolution was quietly taking place, without the world’s knowledge, which twenty years later resulted in the birth of veggie locavorism.
“The fire brigade had to cut the roof of the wooden chalet to put the fire out in the kitchens. I lost everything, including the old furniture and fine Alpine folk art. However, from 9 April, we rolled up our sleeves and started to rebuild it. Here in Savoy, we are all fighters, we don’t give up easily. If all goes well, without any further interruptions, we will open in September at the latest.” Ready for the winter season. And perhaps on time and with a chance of getting his third Michelin star—you never know a leopard doesn’t change his spots.
Since his days as an ‘enfant terrible,’ a reckless self-taught guy expelled from all of the cooking schools. A ‘Fou des Saveurs,’ just to use the title of his first book, a bestseller in the early nineties, a prologue to the Third Millennium Cuisine Encyclopaedia (2003), formed from pantheistic naturalness and lab experimentations.
Crazy Marco,the eternal teddy boy of the kitchen, cook and entrepreneur, teacher and provocateur. Driving an off-road car, it’s the man himself who will come to pick you up, travelling at full speed along the 700 metres that separates the last car park used by the chalets of the new Maison des Bois from the restaurant.
Whenyou sit down to eat, try not to get a sore neck, as you will find yourself forever watching Marco coming and going from his open kitchen.
No one could do a better job than him of introducing dishes to the menu that enhance the flavours of woods and Alpine pastures. A little tip, in case Marc forgets to tell you:I suggest you try one of his masterpieces, a dish he usually tries to modify: the veggie burger. A more than divine veggie burger with lentils, peas, savoy cabbage, and black truffles. But be warned; it is as thick as a steak!Everything is placed on a base of crispy quinoa, with the woodland astringency of a wood sorrel-based sauce in contrast with the earthy notes of the truffle. It is a masterpiece, like all the dishes he prepares: such as the tartelette made with the Lake Geneva trout with a lovage seasoning; the beurre blanc turbot, without butter and with vegetable stock made with tapioca. Or the excellent crumble of scallops with Jerusalem artichoke cream and a decoction ofsylvan heracleum ‘berce’ with a gentle taste of bitter orange.
Le Marco is an alchemist, a creator of flavours representing a healthy cuisine in communion with the natural habitat. “This is why, to rebuild a new and better restaurant is both important and unimportant. I say this with all sincerity. If anything, it is the foundation that allows me to continue to promote a herb-focused cuisine and a new food ecology, which gives me the strength to continue. I’m 65 years old now, and I’m ready for action once again, starting from scratch.” In case you didn’t already know; the Old Master is back. And he’s here to stay.
Col de la Croix-Fry
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