After a bumpy start at Florie’s, Chef Mauro Colagreco says he is “super-content” with his Four Seasons restaurant.
Chef Mauro Colagreco, whose southern France restaurant is acclaimed as world’s best, returns to Palm Beach this weekend to cook for big-spending foodies. He’s hosting one of two Palm Beach-based dinners for this year’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
The Friday dinner at Florie’s, his restaurant at the Four Seasons resort, costs $500 per person. But don’t hold that against Colagreco. His seaside restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France, may be the object of culinary bucket lists, a destination for refined palates and the recipient of three Michelin stars, but he’s as down-to-earth as a star chef can be.
He calls it as it is, even when it means acknowledging a shaky start at his Palm Beach restaurant, which debuted in late 2018 after the resort underwent an extensive makeover.
“The dust had not yet settled. But it was prime season and we could not miss it. The hotel had to offer its guests a restaurant, after all, so we had no choice but to open,” Colagreco told The Post in an interview at Florie’s in December. “It was difficult at the start.”
But that was then, he said.
“Now, a year later, I’m super-content with the quality here,” said Colagreco, who sends two reps from his Mirazur restaurant to Palm Beach every couple of months to work with his Florie’s team.
That team has just welcomed a new chef de cuisine, Nino La Spina, who comes to Palm Beach from Paris, where he led the kitchen at Colagreco’s GrandCoeur brasserie. Before that, La Spina served as sous chef at Mirazur, proving that Colagreco grows his chefs as meticulously as he grows the ingredients for his prized dishes. He is fascinated with the most granular of elements in the food world. Literally so. Take a grain of wheat, for instance. Colagreco is so intrigued by the details of breadmaking that purchased a vintage bread bakery in Menton and is embarking on an effort to help rescue heirloom grains.
His love of the craft is evident upon every wooden tray of warm bread that’s served at Florie’s. It is bread so revered it’s presented with a Pablo Neruda poem, “Ode to Bread.” (“How simple you are, bread, and how profound!”) It is bread like Colagreco’s grandmother baked, a carved round loaf that’s made for sharing and for dipping in the lemon-ginger olive oil that’s made for him in Menton.
At 43, the chef has plenty of business reasons to be focused on the macro. His centerpiece restaurant Mirazur earned top spot in the prestigious “World’s 50 Best” list last year. He has restaurants in France, Argentina, China, Palm Beach and soon in Thailand. Yet Colagreco’s drive appears to come from the micro: The plants in his Menton garden. The unique flavors of any given place, like the Taggiasca olives harvested just across the border in Italy’s Ligurian region.
That micro focus has led to ambitious projects — like the bread bakery he bought. When the Argentine-born chef arrived in Menton nearly 15 years ago, he was introduced to the vintage, family-owned bakery, powered by a 1906-era bread oven. Colagreco loved the wood-fired flavors it gave the dough and, while his restaurant baked its loaves in-house, he would order special breads from that bakery.
The bakery had been handed down from one generation to the next, but one day its weary owner came to the chef with news: He had plans to sell the place and retire.
“He says, ‘I work alone. I’m getting tired. I want to leave it.’ He was that typical, devoted breadmaker who lived a difficult life,” said Colagreco. “But then I started to think, ‘What a shame, this oven. Who knows where it will end up, in whose hands? I was talking about this with my wife and she said, ‘Why don’t we jump into it and take it over ourselves?’”
This is how the chef came to the business of breadmaking — and to the mind-numbing world of wheat harvests, production and rampant genetic modifications.
“We came to learn about the great problem with bread flour, something that is not spoken about too often because the wheat industry is so powerful,” said Colagreco, who can speak in detail about topics like the chromosomal structural variations in wheat and what they can mean to the human body.
So what’s a new, detail-driven breadmaker to do with such knowledge? Buy his own flour mill to process the grain on-premises and hire an expert on sourcing heirloom wheat. Colagreco did both of those things.
“You have to start somewhere, no?” he said.
The chef has taken on environmental issues with the same kind of passion. He’s working with a start-up committed to reducing the use of plastic by creating a certification program.
“It may not seem like it, but a restaurant can have a strong negative impact on the environment,” he said. “At Mirazur, for the past two to three years, we’ve worked to diminish the use of plastic as much as we can. It’s difficult, very difficult. We are so used to using plastic, particularly single-use plastic.”
If global fame has brought him anything, it’s a platform for speaking out on such issues, he said.
“Today chefs have a media presence that we’ve never had. Few professions offer the chance to be a conduit between producers and consumers,” he said. “Without a doubt, we have a role to play in social issues, environmental issues.”
That includes the tendency to settle or turn apathetic when it comes to nutrition, he says. “It’s not true that we can’t nourish the world with good food. It’s not true at all,” Colagreco said.
He offered an example from his restaurant Carne, a specialty hamburger shop in his native city of La Plata, Argentina. The kitchen is devoted to fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients — and this can pose a problem for a burger joint.
“How are you going to tell people that you won’t put fresh tomatoes on a burger in the winter? But we have to be true to our concept,” he said.
The upshot of remaining true to the season? “A great acceptance,” he said.
“Sometimes in our industry we make decisions that underestimate our customers, telling ourselves customers aren’t ready for this or that, or will never accept it. But it’s not like that,” he said. “You guide your customer. You educate them and be honest with them.”
For more food and dining news, subscribe to Liz Balmaseda’s weekly “At the Table” newsletter. Follow her on Instagram @silkpalm.
Source: Thanks https://www.palmbeachpost.com/entertainment/20200220/worlds-best-chef-says-palm-beach-restaurant-has-hit-its-stride