Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alec Lobrano: One Restaurant I Love

Paris-based food writer Alexander (Alec) Lobrano (above) was traveling in Provence this summer and I asked him to tell us about one restaurant he really loved. He chose Chez Vincent in Marseille and sent this terrific review. A bit about Alec: He grew up in Connecticut and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet Magazine from 1999 until it closed in 2009, and has written about food and travel for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, the New York Times and many other US and UK publications. He is the author of "Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants" (Random House), which came out in an updated edition in 2010. His second book, "Hungry for France," will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Alec has won several James Beard awards, and in 2011, was awarded the IACP’s Bert Greene award for culinary writing for his article “Spirit of the Bistro” in Saveur magazine, where he is a contributing editor. Alec’s website is and you can follow him on Twitter here. And here's what he had to say about one restaurant he loves in Marseille....

One of the best things about growing up in southwestern Connecticut was the availability of really good Italian-American cooking. My surname notwithstanding (long story, my father’s family is from New Orleans and I might be an 1/16th Italian at most), what I knew of as ‘real’ Italian food, were the delicious meatball grinders prepared from scratch by the gentle old Italian ladies in the kitchen of my elementary school cafeteria, the stunningly good red-sauce cooking of a neighbor, Mrs. Ferrari, and a few nearby restaurants, like the epic-ly good Apizza Center on the border between Fairfield and Bridgeport.

What I didn’t know at the time is that the ‘Italian’ food I craved also offered a fascinating sociological snapshot of my immediate environs. To wit, Italian immigrants arrived in large numbers in this corner of Connecticut in various waves: masons came to build the beautiful stone retaining walls of the New Haven railroad, then more arrived to work in the factories and mills of Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport in the days when this tiny corner of turf produced everything from sewing machines (Singer) to locks, guns, typewriters and tires.

Most of them came from southern Italy and Sicily, and many of those who didn’t chose to make the long expensive trip to a country where they didn’t speak the language, ended up settling in European cities that were booming at the time and needed their labor—Marseille, then a big brawny port town that had exploded after the Suez Canal opened, for example. This explains why many years ago when I first went to Marseille--one of my favorite French cities--as a back-packing student, I was surprised to find ‘Italian’ food that closely resembled what I knew it to be back home.

It was 1979 and we were staying in a seriously seedy hotel in the red-light district, now much diminished, near Le Vieux Port, and we were hungry. So after walking around in the brine-tinged breezes coming in off the sea that long ago night--and reading the menus of a lot of restaurants we couldn’t afford—we yearned for bouillabaisse but a single serving was beyond what was then our whole-day’s food budget. Then we came upon an Italian place that looked good, and a nice older Italian lady overlooked our scruffy looks and set us up with a big carafe of inexpensive rosé wine at a sidewalk table. We ordered a single large pizza for four and were alarmed when the waitress returned with a plate of roasted red peppers in olive oil and garlic. None of us spoke French very well, but worried about the additional cost, I struggled to explain that a mistake had been made.

She shrugged. “Bon, c’est de ma faute. Mangez!”

We didn’t know what to do. As best I could understand, she’d said it was her mistake, but eat them, which was fine. But what if we were charged?

So these delicious looking glossy red peppers sat there in front of us until she came back with a plate of deep-fried calamari and put it down on the table.

“I said eat!” she barked and went back inside. So what the hell, we did, and the food was delicious. But why was she being so nice to us? And what if we had to pay? 

She returned with another carafe of rose and a gratin dish of eggplant Parmesan, cleared the empty plates silently, grinned, and withdrew. Our pizza followed, and then four cannoli. And when the dreaded little fluttering bill finally came, I turned it upside and breathed a huge sigh of relief. We’d been charged for one carafe of wine and the pizza, and someone had written, “Merci pour l’Operation Dragoon!”

Totally unbeknownst to any of us, August 15 was the day the Allied Forces had first come ashore in the south of France in a military action known as “Operation Dragoon.” Before leaving, I went inside to thank the waitress and took a visting card from the restaurant, Chez Vincent. I carried it in my wallet for years, and I’ve since been back dozens of times, and if the food is good and generously served, what I like most about it is that it offers a sepia snapshot of Italian Marseille as surely as the Apizza Center on the Post Road in Fairfield, Connecticut offered the same of Italian Connecticut.

The last time I was there a few weeks ago, I went for a timeout from a regimen of excellent meals in the city’s many terrific new bistros, notably Le Grain de Sel. That night, all I wanted was some red peppers, some rosé, a pizza and the harmless show of the nearby street walkers mixed with the arrival of Pols and Molls in Lamborghinis and the grinding slow motion progress of a local garbage truck (the operator of the truck smiled at me and excused himself before putting the compactor to work next to my table). It was a warm night, and I wasn’t in a hurry so I was dawdling over a coffee when Rose, the white-haired patronne and part-time chef of the restaurant who was born in Marsala in Sicily 80 years ago, came outside for a breath of fresh air. She chatted at several tables, and stopped briefly at mine and squinted. 

“You’ve been here before, right?” I nodded. “That’s good, that’s good. Please come back again,” she said, and I know I will.

Chez Vincent 
#25 rue Glandevès 
13001 Marseille 
Open for lunch (noon to 2 pm) and dinner (8 to 10 pm) every day except Tuesday. 
To Get There: Head south along the Vieux Port on the Quai des Belges and just as it begins to curve around the Port, take a sharp left onto the rue Pytheas.  Then turn right at the first street, rue Glandeves. There are two parking lots nearby. If you're taking the Metro, the stops are Estrangin Préfecture &amp or Vieux Port Hôtel de Ville.

Photos: Chez Vincent owner Rose Suggello will turn 80 in January. Her mother, Madame Vincent, opened the restaurant with a friend in 1936. The restaurant is known for pizza, of course, but also for classics such as soupe au pistou. Credits: Restaurant exterior by Alec Lobrano. Photos of Mrs. Suggello, pizza and pistou by Jean-Daniel Sudres (see more of Jean-Daniel's work at Photo of Alec by Steven Rothfeld.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mama's Coming to Bordeaux

Sometimes you feel like a château, sometimes you don't! Mama Shelter will open in Bordeaux October 15th, bringing its quirky charms to the heart of Wine Country. They're already open in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Istanbul. The Bordeaux hotel, located right in the city center (10 minutes from the St. Jean rail station and 30 minutes from the airport), has 97 rooms, free WiFi, free in-room movies and a restaurant conceived and overseen by Alain Senderens (the former chef of Lucas Carton in Paris who famously "gave back" his three Michelin stars) and his culinary cohort, chef Jérôme Banctel. Just like at the other Mama Shelters, the hotel was designed by Philippe Starck, who is also a partner. To celebrate the opening, the company is offering 1000 rooms starting at 49€ (for stays between October 15 and December 17) and another 99 rooms for 99€ (same dates). All info is on the Mama Shelter site here.

Mama Shelter Bordeaux
19, rue Poquelin Moliere
33000 Bordeaux
T +33 0(5) 57 30 45 45
F +33 (0)5 57 30 45 46 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Book Signing in Paris...and a Giveaway

If you'll be in Paris at the end of the month, Clotilde Dusoulier will be signing copies of her French Market Cookbook on Saturday, September 28 from 3 to 6 pm at the bookstore WH Smith (see the event on Facebook here). Wine and food from the book will be served, along with a toast to the 10th anniversary of Chocolate & Zucchini, Clotilde's extremely popular bi-lingual blog. No doubt lots of local foodies will be there, to schmooze around and show their support for Clotilde. If you can't make it to the signing, you can order the book on Amazon here.

Clotilde is a French food writer, based in Paris, who writes in both French and English. Her focus is on fresh, colorful and seasonal foods, with an eye on nutrition. She started Chocolate & Zucchini in 2003, which led to a book deal (Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen, 2007) and then another (Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris, 2009). Today she pens food and travel articles for magazines and websites, writes and edits cookbooks and works as a recipe developer, public speaker and food-trend consultant.

The French Market Cookbook--a vegetable driven take on French cuisine--has received wide press and praise, both in print (The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Food & Wine, Le Monde, France Magazine, Shape, Edible Manhattan, etc.) and online (,,,, For links to reviews of this book and Clotilde's previous titles, click here. While she's not a vegetarian, Clotilde has chosen to eat less meat and fish...and is always looking for new ways to cook what looks best at the market. The book has 90 recipes organized by season, 70 gorgeous full-color photos and lots of charming stories about shopping and cooking in France.

New York-based chef Dan Barber, a leader in the sustainability movement, says ''Food blogger doesn't do Clotilde justice. True, she's amassed a cult following with her pioneering website, but she's also a journalist with her finger on the pulse of Parisian culture--and an expert and wholly original cook. The French Market Cookbook is a triumph of all Dusoulier brings to the table, as enlightened and joyous as the woman behind it."

To celebrate the book signing event in Paris, Clotilde's publisher, Clarkson Potter, has offered me a copy of the book to give away. To enter, just leave a comment under "comments" below. Make sure to include your email address; signing in with your Google account or website URL won't be enough. If you're hesitant to leave your email, use the word "at" instead of the @ sign or put in some extra spaces. We'll pick the winner in a week or two so do enter soon. Meanwhile, you can sign up to receive Clotilde's free newsletter here, get her updates on Facebook here or follow her on Twitter, as 58,317 other people already do. Bonne Chance et Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mondovino: Film, Tasting + Talk Sept. 20

Dear Reader, after posting this story yesterday, I just received word that this event has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Chateau La Coste hopes to reschedule at a later date and apologizes for any inconvenience.

On Friday September 20, the wine domaine Chateau La Coste will screen the documentary Mondovino and Yvonne Hégoburu (of Domaine de Souch in the Jurançon appellation) will be present to share her experiences. Madame Hégoburu is one of the "stars" of the film and she appears alongside wine-world superstars such as the Mondavi clan (Robert, Magrit, Michael, Tim), the Antinori clan (Albiera, Allegra, Lodovico, Piero), Jean-Charles Boisset, Marquis Dino Frescobaldi, Michael Broadbent, Robert Parker and many others. 

After the screening, there will be a tasting of Madame Hégoburu's white wines, considered to be among the great sweet wines of France. 

The evening will finish with a buffet of charcuterie and cheese, accompanied by the wines of Château La Coste. 

Mondovino, by Jonathan Nossiter, was an Official Selection at Cannes in 2004. Nossiter is a filmmaker and winemaker who grew up between France, Italy, Greece and India. From Napa Valley to Burgundy to Italy, Mondovino explores wine-world issues across three continents, from conflicts and rivalries between families to struggles for the preservation of the land. 

Yvonne Hégoburu and her husband René built their home in an idyllic spot on the top of a hill at the foot of the Pyrenees, about 6km from the town of Pau. They enjoyed many happy years there together and dreamed of having a vineyard one day. René passed away before he could see it realized but in 1987, at the age of 60, Yvonne launched Domaine de Souch in his memory and planted her first vines. Her very first wine won a gold medal in Paris. Converted to organic and biodynamic techniques in 1994, the domaine produces dry and sweet white wines of exceptional quality, using the grape varieties typical of the region. The wines are a blend of 70% Petit Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng and small quantities of Petit Courbu.

Château La Coste, meanwhile, is an unique 600-acre estate roughly ten minutes north of Aix, in the agricultural village of Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade. People call it the ''starchitect'' winery as it has a large visitors center designed by Tadao Ando, plus numerous installations and buildings crafted by luminaries such as Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry. Sculptures on the property are by Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeous and others, while artists with work on view include Alexander Calder, Michael Stipe, Andy Goldsworthy, Paul Matisse and more. 

While the newest incarnation of Château La Coste is just two years old, there's been agriculture and winemaking here as far back as Roman times. On the property are cobbled Gallo-Roman pathways, dry stone walls, bridges, underground wells...and the vestiges of an intricate watering system currently undergoing restoration. A lovely Venetian villa in a rosy pink hue has stood here since 1682. 

It was in 2004 that the current Irish owners decided to transform the domaine into a peaceful and inspiring place where art, architecture and the terrain would blend seamlessly. The idea had already been successful in the Basque city of Álava, headquarters of Vinos del Marqués de Riscal, where Frank Gehry was commissioned to build a hotel. Here in France, the owners expanded on that idea, inviting artists and architects from all over the world to “visit, explore and find a place upon the estate that inspired them to create.” New buildings are coming from Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, while other additions--such as a small hotel--are being discussed. 

To see the major features of the property, plan for a two-hour stroll with some gravel and gentle hills. And consider staying on for a friends and I loved everything about our lunch here last November: the sunshine on the terrace, the calm of the reflecting pool, the excellent food, the wine (of course!) and the gracious warmth of our server. Make sure to also leave time for perusing the art and architecture books in the alcove by the front desk. 

Château La Coste is open for self-guided visits year round (you'll be provided with a map) while guided visits are available in English, by reservation. In season, scheduled English-language tours are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 1 p.m. More info and admission prices can be found on the bi-lingual website.

General Info 
Château La Coste, 2750 Route de la Cride, Le Puy Sainte Reparade,, tel 04 42 61 89 98. GPS coordinates on the

Info for Sept 20 Event
The screening of Mondovino is free. The buffet, wine and tasting presented by Yvonne Hégoburu is 30€ per person. More info and reservations are by phone (04 42 61 92 92) or online at Places are limited and reservations are advised.

6:30 pm: Welcome and refreshments on the wine shop terrace.
7 pm: Screening commences in the tasting room
9:30 pm: Tasting with Yvonne Hégoburu in the wine shop
9:50 pm: Buffet on the wine shop terrace

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Three Big Nationwide Events Coming Up

Journées du Patrimoine
This wonderful event takes place this weekend (September 14 and 15) in cities and villages all over France; a few villages have Patrimoine activities on Friday the 13th as well. The event is actually happening all across Europe (it's also called European Heritage Days) and this is the 30th year. The idea is that many historic sites, monuments, buildings, estates and domaines are open for visits...along with many private sites that are normally, um, private. Most sites have a guide on hand to enhance your enjoyment of the visit and most (but not all) offer free entry. Some may require you to sign up in advance...but for the most part, you just show up. The website with all the sites is here but you'll do much better checking in with the Tourist Office or the tourism website of the village or city you want to visit. For example, the main website lists just three sites in St. Remy. But the Village of St. Remy published its own terrific guide showing 21 participating sites and a map, which you can see here. Click here for the program in Aix; here and here for what's happening in Marseille.  Arles is here and Avignon is here but for the rest of it, you're on your own. To help, here's a list of links to most of the Tourist Offices in Provence.

Tous au Restaurant
The popular annual restaurant promotion Tous au Restaurant is back for the fourth year. From September 16 to 22, restaurants all over France will offer a special three-course prix-fixe menu: appetizer, main course and dessert. The theme is ''Your Guest is Our Guest'' and it's basically a two for one: The first guest chooses this menu and the second guest gets the same menu free. Sometimes drinks are included, sometimes not. The dishes, the choices and the price are all at the restaurant's discretion but I've seen some wonderful meal deals in years past. Some restaurants will invite their purveyors in to meet customers; others may offer kitchen tours or special wine events. This is a great opportunity to try a new restaurant or one that always seemed too expensive. 

Some restaurants will offer special kids menus on Wednesday at noon (because many kids have that day off school). In Valence, for example, Anne-Sophie Pic, the only female Michelin three-star chef in France, will base her dishes on her own treasured childhood memories while chef Frédéric Vardon in Paris will be whipping up some of his kids' favorite dishes.

Tables can be booked on the Tous au Restaurant website, or by calling the restaurant directly. Reservations began on Monday September 9 and the most popular restaurants sell-out quickly, so scan the list and book soon. The website will require some patience so be forewarned. If you click English, you'll still get French. You can't initially search by the name of the town you want; you have to start with the region. (Provence can be found here.) Then, you have to know the department within the region (Bouches du Rhone, Vaucluse, Var, etc.) Only then can search by the name of the town. If you don't find the city or town you're looking for, try spelling it another way. For example, St. Remy only comes up as Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Aix doesn't work, neither does Aix en Provence; it only comes up as Aix-en-Provence, with hyphens. But if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded with two very nice meals for the price of one. The Tous au Restaurant website is here but do check back because in previous years, some restaurants got onboard late.

Fete de la Gastronomie
Another nationwide food promo is the third annual Fête de la Gastronomie, September 20 to 22. This event is international but the French version is meant to celebrate the quality, diversity and rich history of French cuisine...and its recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list.  Last year, roughly 6000 different events and activities took place, ranging from special menus in restaurants, wine tastings, lectures, street food festivals, cooking classes for kids and adults...and much more. Once again, if you click English you'll find most of the event info is in French. But give it a shot anyway. To see what's planned in your area, click here but check back often because new listings are being added daily; there were 6,861 events posted (in France and beyond) last time I checked. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

At Home on the Range

Here’s a recipe for a wonderful evening out in Provence: mix equal parts food, wine, music and storytelling…then season with a bit of spicy language and top with a sprinkling of whimsy.  

The finished dish is a “culinary performance” called Ma Puce à Table! (come to the table, little one!), but chef Yvan Cadiou tends to call it “my mad cooking show” instead. It happens at the Théâtre de la Cartonnerie in Marseille on September 12th and 13th, from 8 to 10 pm.

Each evening, 300 people will come out to watch Yvan cook on stage, while they eat and drink, enjoy live music and hear Yvan spin his tales. “The show is the story of my life as a chef…my adventures,” he says. “It’s the first of its kind in France. I created it in Paris for the contemporary theater Le Centquatre and it played there in March and September last year, with great success!”

In Marseille, Yvan will weave his best memories and anecdotes into a funny, poignant performance, touching on his childhood, his children, his parents, his dreams, the art of eating, the life of a chef, his passion for wine and more…as though the entire audience were friends seated round his kitchen table. At the same time, he’ll be cooking 300 portions of penne “risotto” with crayfish and vegetables on nine electric woks. Yvan will actually offer the audience what he calls “five eating moments,” meaning he’ll serve five dishes, with the help of two assistants and 15 culinary/hotel students. (Actually four of the dishes will have been prepared ahead, but never mind.)

For 15 years, this peripatetic Brittany-born chef traveled the world: cooking, eating, learning. He spent time in 14 countries--Jamaica,  Martinique, Guadeloupe, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Gibralter and Hong Kong among them--where he toiled in luxury-hotel kitchens, casinos and private homes and sampled all the local foods. That left him with a passion for ethnic ingredients and a global culinary view, which infuses much of his cooking today.  

Then he settled down in Marseille and opened a 20-seat restaurant. But this is not someone who does just one thing at a time, ever. He appeared on TV 300-plus times, wrote books, consulted to food companies, endorsed products and started a family.  For the last 14 months, Yvan has been living near St. Remy de Provence, where he welcomes enthusiastic eaters into his home for morning or late-afternoon cooking classes, which are followed by a meal. Fresh, seasonal ingredients come from his ever-expanding garden, enhanced by the best fish, poultry, meat and game he can source. He also teaches cooking to kids, does private cheffing, stages cooking parties and more, all of which let his huge personality shine through. Yvan expresses himself through food but he’s an artist and performer at heart. (For more on Yvan’s classes, click here and scroll down to “The Chef Invites You…” Or drop me a note at and I’ll send you all the info).

To accompany the culinary adventure on September 12 and 13, there will be three different wines served (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel and Rasteau) and a live soundtrack provided by musician friends on drums, bass, keyboard, guitar and a bagpipe-type instrument from Brittany.

The show will be in French, with a smattering of English if the crowd wants it; the chef’s English is perfect.  But even if you speak no French at all, he swears you’ll have tons of fun. (Oh and by the way, he swears…so leave the little kids at home.)

“You can laugh, cry, applaud, dream or just enjoy the food, wine and music,” he says. “It’s original.”

The show is produced in partnership with the Lycée des Métiers Régional Hôtelier de Marseille and has the imprimatur of Marseille Provence2013 (MP2013), a year-long program of hundreds of events celebrating the region as the European Capital of Culture. For more on Marseille Provence 2013 (MP2013) in English, click here.

Tickets for Ma Puce à Table are 25 per person. The Théâtre de la Cartonnerie is part of the arts complex at La Friche la Belle de Mai and is located at #41 rue Jobin. For ticket info, details, a map and more, click here. Yvan says arrive early to find parking because it can be a bit difficult. If you take the train, the theater is roughly a 15-minute walk from the Gare Saint-Charles.

And if you're heading for Marseille, check out the terrific feature story about the city from yesterday's New York Times, which you can see here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Start the Weekend with Art: 3 Shows

Sorry for the short notice on this one, folks. But there's a nice art show opening tonight so I thought I'd slip it in here quickly. The show is called ABBYAC and it's on view through September 8 in the gorgeous gardens of the Abbaye Saint-André in Villeneuve lez Avignon, just across the Rhone from Avignon. This year, six sculptors and one ceramicist are participating. The show launched this morning and the versnissage (opening party) is tonight, starting at 6 pm. Everyone is welcome. Showing their work will be Laurent Baude, Stephane Guiran, Marc Nucera, Nicolas Rubenstein, Gabriel Sobin, Mathias Souverbie and Christine Viennet. The show remains on view just through the weekend: tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. I went last year and loved it. There's parking on the hill so just drive on up...and don't miss the great views of Avignon. The site for the Abbaye (with directions) is here...and there's info in English here...and a bit more info on the show is here. Or you can call Marion Grégoire (06 12 51 15 80) with questions.

On Sunday September 8 in St. Remy, we have the popular Route des Artistes. This large art fair happens a few times each summer, takes over the main streets of Centre Ville and runs from morning until early evening. More info is on the Tourist Office website here

If you're down on the coast this weekend, pop into Franchement Art in Villefranche sur Mer. A reader just wrote to tell me about it and says it's one of the fastest growing art events on the Riviera, with painting, sculpture, photography, decor and much more. All the details are here and the show runs through Monday.

Photo: A vignette of the gardens at the Abbaye Saint-Andre, part of vast hilltop fortress overlooking Avignon. The show called Abbyac is ongoing there all weekend.