Oscar Wilde once pinned a shrinking André Gide to a wall, declaring: “Voulez-vous savoir le grand drame de ma vie? C’est que j’ai mis mon génie dans ma vie; je n’ai mis que mon talent dans mes œuvres.” Which roughly tranlates into “I’m about the most big-headed bright spark on the planet”. But we all know Wilde’s sole fault was his overwhelming modesty.
This summer I was delighted to receive Patricia Wells’ new work “The Provence Cookbook” (thank you Liz!) for my birthday. Its appealingly understated matt presentation is mostly cream and black, and it gently continues her love-affair with Provence and its produce — and even more, with its producers.
Then Edouard Loubet’s launch into literature, unimaginatively named: “A Chef in Provence”, arrived on my doorstep. What a contrast. Big, bright and shiny, and inevitably prefaced by P. Mayle esq.
I should cut to the restaurant review: The first time I visited Loubet’s 2 Michelin-starred Moulin du Lourmarin it was a freezing Valentine’s Day. The room is an attractively large, bright, converted olive mill, the food is splendid-to-sublime, both sommelier and Luberon-dominated wine list are excellent, and the prices are suitably eye-watering. We had sampled two superbly delicate mini-starter dishes, then the stunningly visual entrée and his famous “petite pause selon Edouard Loubet” when along came the main course. We looked at what looked suspiciously like crumbs of soil ‘decorating’ the edges of our designer platters. We shrugged. It was bound to be some trendy new spice. But then HE swept into view, proclaiming, in English …“Yes! It is dirt!” He spread his arms triumphantly, daring us to challenge his flagrant originality. “Very nice” we nodded, wondering about health inspectors…
But this is the essence of what Edouard Loubet stands for. Revere or ridicule (I do both) he is a great chef.
I wasn’t surprised to find out he was trained by Marc Veyrat — the really eccentric 6-star chef of the Rhone-Alpes — who strides, black-hatted, over mountaintops in search of gentian roots and edelweiss pistils to add to his already fantastically obscure creations. Edouard strides black-hatted, too — over the Luberon, and through his famous vegetable patches which grow medieval herbs and hedgerow weeds, gathering greenery and ‘dirt’, to give his dishes their desired sense of ‘le vrai terroir’.
The word ‘genius’ is constantly linked to E.L. - not least by the genius himself, in his farcically overblown cookbook with its impossible recipes that need basic ingredients like: pigs’ bladders, petit-gris snails starved for 3 days, wakame, sea squirts, germander leaves, saltwort, licorice root or purslane (easy, pop down to Carrefour) — the ridiculous list goes on.
He may be a genius in the kitchen - and in his kitchen garden - but when it comes to cookbooks, bring back Patricia, that’s what I say…
UPDATE: Edouard Loubet has recently opened another 2 star restaurant at Bonnieux — the Bastide de Capelongue 04 90 75 89 78 open mid-March to mid-Nov only.