"I'm a country boy. I'm always attracted to what the city draws from the country and how the country is influenced by the city. My own love of food came a little late in my life. It began when I started to cook the fish I caught and the game a friend would give me. I liked the pleasure it gave to my first 'guests.' I loved wine as soon as I started cooking, because you can't have a good meal without wine. In the South of France I lived in the middle of the vineyards of Bandol, renowned for powerful red wines, fruity rosés and spicy whites. And the markets there were filled with the heady fragrances of herbs, fruits and vegetables. When I was 17 it was clear to me that I wanted to start culinary school. It was a passion. It could have been no other way! I consider myself fortunate that I now live in the 'South of Canada,' where my Kingsbrae Arms kitchen is filled daily with organic produce from our garden and local farms as well as a bounty of meats and seafood from land and sea.
"I’m not a big fan of molecular gastronomy. For me it shifts the focus from the ingredients to the cleverly deployed re-cycling of them. Table conversation is inevitably focused on nothing but the tricks. I find that boring. Conviviality is very important to me. My style encourages that. And when I go out I want that, whether it's with friends or my wife. That’s why I’m going to tell you about places that emphasize ingredients and their integrity around my hometown, Toulon.
"First stop is for truffles. About an hour and a half out of Toulon you'll find the small town of Aups in the Gorge du Verdon, also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon. It's a picture- perfect town of sun-baked stone and clay tile roofs. Very Provence. Best of all, if you love black truffles (and I do), this excursion is a must. The town is famous for its black-truffle market, which takes place every Thursday morning from November to February. There's also a truffle festival in January and I've attended many times. I caution you, however: the market is more like an auction. The value of the truffles, set by brokers, varies according to the quality and abundance of the truffles on offer. You’ve got to be sharp at your game here!
"Back in Toulon, the Cours Lafayette winds it’s way down to the harbour where the daily marketplace is a way of life for Toulonnais. This is where I would shop for my family. My two young boys, Tristan and Charlie, are especially fond of bouillabaisse and this market is the perfect place to find the freshest ingredients from nearby fields and the sea. I can recall the heady smells of seafood mixed with the savoury spices and herbs that make bouillabaisse a quintessential Provencal dish--my way, of course.
"When it comes to my children’s mother and the romance of my life, I take Stephanie to my favourite restaurant l'Oursinado. This place is all about the sea, which is so much a part of life in the South of France. The seafood is fresh and well prepared. I have to say it in French: Panaché de fruits de mer, Les huitres, Marinade de sardines, Crevette mayonnaise, Brochette de moules, Dorade rose Cantre (Dorade grise) à la braise, Loup au fenouil, Rougets grillés, Sole meuniere St Pierre, Dorade Royale, Sar, Chapon, Pageot, Pagre…all of the things Stephanie and I love. When we go, we always take a table on the terrace, drenched in sunlight, with the sparkling Mediterranean before us. Just 13 kilometers west of Toulon, this is the perfect destination when the two of us can find the rare moment to get away from our hectic lives and enjoy each other’s company.
"Did I say l'Oursinado is my favourite seaside restaurant? I did. Because my favourite hillside hideaway, between a lovely old town of Bormes-les-Mimosas and the sea, is La Rastegue, about 40 kilometers east of Toulon. Here chef Jerome Masson and his wife, Patricia, perform wonders with local game, fresh fish and produce--remarkable in every way. The ambience is a bit more elegant and intimate, serving only 30 people at a time. And the preparations are matchless: baby pigeon, tenderloin of pork, line-caught fish. Jerome has the style I've embraced for my own cuisine: simple, fresh, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves in a commune of conviviality. The Michelin Guide reflects my opinion of this starred restaurant.
"I would also like to tip my hat to a few hot spots in town. You can never go wrong with Le Pointilliste. This is a gastro-pub serving a market menu that is always fresh and a little sassy.
"Le Cabanon overlooks the historic seaport and has some fusion going on. The views, the decorations and the some of the Asian inspired food make this a novelty to enjoy.
"After all this eating, you may or may not want to head for the beach, depending on your confidence in a Speedo or bikini! If you do, be sure to check out the beautiful white sandy beach of Portissol in Sanary-sur-Mer, just 12 or so kilometers west of Toulon. The beach itself is an arc shape, bounded by walls with remnants of from the days of the Gallo-Romans. You can scuba dive in shallow water here or, if you’ve got the stuff, you can surf when the sea is rough.
"Finally, I tip my hat to my colleague, chef Christophe Bacquie, who has elevated the cuisine of Hotel du Castellet to a high art. He is one of the Grand Chefs of Relais & Châteaux and has earned a number of Michelin stars throughout his career. The restaurants of Hotel du Castellet are worth the trip from Toulon, just 20 minutes to the northwest. I know from first-hand experience that the rigorous standards of being a member of Relais & Châteaux are reinforced by guest satisfaction day after day. At this magnificent property, perhaps for a special time in your life, a celebration, an occasion of love, you will not be disappointed."
Photos: Guillaume in his kitchen at Kingsbrae Arms; the inn is in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, Canada. The village blossomed as a resort town in the 19th century, when the Canadian Pacific Railroad laid a branch line from Montreal, making it accessible to wealthy urban families. Kingsbrae Arms, a Relais & Châteaux hotel, was built in 1897 by a prominent Nova Scotia businessman as a summer cottage for his family.