Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Chardon - my favorite new restaurant in Arles - go now

So my most memorable meal in Arles...in...I can't even tell you how long...was at a bar.

Now, before you roll your eyes at my obvious hi-lo, let me explain. 

Last Saturday, I was finally able to make it back to Chardon. A friend had invited me for dinner there at the beginning of March and I was so impressed. The ambiance had been chalheureuse on that end of winter night, the service impeccable (a stickler with me, as with any former waiter), the food clean and bright. But it had been an evening of art openings and the bubbly had been copiously poured, softening my memory around the edges. I needed to return, alone and focused. As fortune would have it, when I arrived - slightly puffy from the noon-day heat and a tad late for my reservation - I was hand-shakingly hungry.

Sarah, the sprite Arlèsienne manager, treated me as if we had known each other for a long time (and indeed, we have been following each other on instagram, oh, these modern times) and upon my pausing over a table in the dining room next to a couple lost in loving gazes, wisely suggested that I take a seat at the bar in the kitchen. Sometimes shy me even more wisely accepted for what followed was exceptionally delicious but also just really...fun. 

I want to hit pause for a moment, though, and tell you why I was a fan of Chardon from day one. Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins (sommelier and chef respectively, both previously of Frenchie in Paris), along with Julia Mitton (former general director of Experimental Group - aka Cocktail Heaven) formed the Paris Popup a few years back. The idea was to be able to use their knowledge without being tied down to a particular restaurant, allowing them to continue to grow their crafts and have a healthy exchange with their hosts. After Paris, adventures awaited in such far-flung locales as Kyoto, Barcelona, Fez and...Arles. Eh oui, Arles can be charming, non? Bitten by the bug, they decided to give back the opportunity for other burgeoning chefs-in-residence and Chardon was born.

And this means that the Australian couple of Mal Meiers and Kate Christensen from Food & Wine Pop Up are cooking and wining (no, not whining, although I have to say that there was some pretty fantastic banter taking place) in-house until the end of June. While they are young and yes, lovely, their level of talent is off the charts and between them they already have nearly thirty years of experience in the industry. Does this mean that their exuberance has been stifled? Au contraire. 

When I settled onto my stool at the bar, service was in full swing - a ballet of chops, sizzles and a bell ting when the plates were ready to be sent on their way. I asked Sarah what I needed to eat, she decided and suggested a round yet minerally glass of red from the Tenerife that I would have never chosen on my own. After that first wave of activity began to subside, Mal and I fell into an easy conversation, all while his focus never wavered, his hands never paused. 

For his cooking is deceptive. It was fascinating to discover. It looks incredibly simple and yet every element of every ingredient has either a back-story or several steps of preparation. And you would never know anything beyond just that what you are eating is so fantastic that, as I told Mal, "It makes you want to eat as slowly as possible." And while my first dish, a mussels tempura battered in Indian spices served with a citron confit mayonnaise was so happy inducing that I forgot that I was in France and ate it with my fingers, it was the second that truly showed the complexity of the ideas at hand. 

Even though I have lived in Provence for over ten years, I have eaten local taureau or bull, maybe only twice. It is a tough meat to conquer well. But here, after being cured with native Australian pepperberry, it is a tartare with the softness of tuna (no easy feat) and a depth of flavor that I am still wondering about, especially as it was paired with a forest floor of mushrooms, twisted puffs of Camargue rice, a mixture of fermented grains with dots of smoked mayonnaise. Mal very generously explained what had gone into this and the other dishes I saw being created in front of my eyes with nearly all local ingredients, which made being there all the richer an experience. 

He said that he feels that is getting to the point where he is arriving with greater frequency and assurance at really delivering the ideas that are in his head to what is actually presented, then tasted on the plate (it is worth noting that that he is an adept ceramicist as well and the plates used are his own, which provides for a pretty complete aesthetic if you ask me). That is an idea that I struggle with as well in all of my creative efforts but to hear that from him was moving and is really indicative of cooking that isn't just a visual impulse as things can tend to be amidst Chef's Table obsessed foodies. I was only able to speak with Kate for a bit as things slowed down, but it is really clear that this couple is batting for authenticity and discovery, two words that mean quite a lot to me.

So, will you go, please? Trust me when I admit that my photos (taken on the fly during lunch!) do not do this justice. Kate and Mal are there until June 26th. And if you can't make it, then by all means go to meet the home team or the next chefs-in-residence. During my lunch I kept mumbling, mostly to myself, that, "I can't believe that I am having this level of food in Arles." Let alone in such a relaxed but professional environment. Listen, as I have said before, a lot of the food in Arles is either surprisingly bad or pretentious or both. At Chardon, you can have fresh, delicious and adventurous. And that is thanks to the trio behind it. In a town where you can't say that you are "from" Arles unless your family has been there since five generations, they have (and are continuing to do as new projects are on the horizon) simply not listened and with great exuberance have ushered in the new. Clearly, sometimes Michelin-esque stars are soaring rather than resting in a fixed orbit.

37 rue des Arènes, 13200 Arles
Tél. +33 (0)9 72 86 72 04
Email: hello@hellochardon.com
Instagram: @chardonarles
Hours through June:
Friday to Monday, lunch from 12:30 to 3pm
Thursday to Monday night, dinner from 7:30pm to 11pm
Do reserve ahead...

As always, this post is just me spreading along the word of something that I feel is really, really, really worth knowing about. In no way was it sponsored. On est d'accord? Just to let you know.
Thank you for being here,

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Walking with Lulu in the Alpilles - Part deux

 I know that it doesn't make sense. 

And that it is childish to hold up reminders of beauty with a raised hand, still sticky with glue and a smattering of sparkling dust.

But it is all that I know how to do. 

To chase back the dark with my love.

 I recently had another week of staying out at the bergerie with Lulu. She followed me diligently on our walks, muzzle to the ground, and began to understand that she had to let me be when I knelt into the grass to get closer to a bloom and that when I stopped moving to meditate, I was actually more than alive. 

Still, I had a harder time being content with the space of time fluffed up around me like wings than in my previous visit, for I could (and can) hear the clock ticking, even amidst the mighty gusts of the Mistral that blew for three days straight. So I did what I always do, I looked harder. Perhaps that might seem like a willful distraction or a game of pretending but, as always, in distracting my gaze outwards, I came back, somewhat surreptitiously, to whom I currently find "me" to be.

Thoughts are as tricky as the wind though, aren't they? "These foolish things remind me of you." Best not to always give them so much attention as they kick up the fluff and swirl. How much more reliable then, the proof, this little offering, for today and onwards of what does make sense to me, when that is something that is so dearly needed. For beauty builds the shelter of home.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

- John Keats

I am sending out so much Strength and Love to everyone along with my deepest condolences to those who were touched by the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester. 
Let's stick together. I am so deeply appreciative of this wonderful community.

Friday, May 12, 2017

My photo in Architectural Digest, US edition...for Atelier Vime

Today, I am really proud to share with you both a bit of good news and to introduce you to a wonderful new design company, Atelier Vime

Quite a few of you have been following with interest the various adventures of my friend, Anthony Watson, since I featured his perfect village house that was for sale and afterwards, the transformation of the Hôtel Drujon, a unique 18th century hôtel particulier that he is renovating with his friend, Benoît. It is through the discovery of the property's history in the village of Vallabrègues, known for its tradition of weaving rattan or wicker that an idea was born. Both have a true love and breadth of knowledge for design and antiques, as does their third partner Raphäelle Hanley (who also has a covetable career in the fashion industry, including ten years as an accessories designer both for the houses of Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent). This, combined with a respect for the work of local artisans and the environment, led to the natural evolution of bringing the village's former renown back to life...but with a modern twist. And that is where the interest lies.

The style of Atelier Vime is modern and vibrant, even while giving a strong clin d'oeil to the glory periods of French design. In their work, I feel the sun of Provence breathing through the rattan that has been harvested in the nearby Camargue since centuries but also a truly elegant simplicity that gives the line an international appeal. So perhaps it is no surprise that the company is on a meteoric rise, with clients and commissions from some of today's leading interior designers (such as Mark D. Sikes and Frank de Biasi) with more arriving daily. Along with their ever expanding audience on Instagram, where style-setters such as Aerin Lauder snap up the company's vintage pieces (by such luminaries as Tito Agnoli and Audoux-Minet) comme les petits pains, I have watched with great pride as Atelier Vime has continued to expand, all while reviving a local dying art in the process. As they say in French, it is gagnant-gagnant or win-win.

So I was especially delighted when Anthony approached me about doing a photo shoot for a future story for the US edition of Architectural Digest. Time was of the essence as I had to be in Arles the same day. But I love what we did together. Does it help that Anthony is incredibly handsome and easy to shoot? Yes. And that we had already worked together before for a portrait that appeared in I Heart magazine? That too. And I have a nearly proprietorial love for the hôtel particulier itself, which I have documented since the beginning of its renovation. At times, I am moved to tears when I see the progress that is being made, to watch it literally come back to life. Still, I did not know if any of my photographs would be selected for the final cut. I am delighted to say that one was (see above and below) and can be found in a wonderful article written by Hannah Martin in the June issue of Architectural Digest in the United States, which is on newsstands now. This is my first international photo credit. Needless to say, that makes me smile and it is an honor to be featured in such a prestigious publication.

But I am equally delighted to introduce you to Atelier Vime, as I have been waiting a year to do so. I hope you will enjoy a few of the other photos from that shoot and will discover their beautifully done website at the address below. For me, Atelier Vime is stunning proof that sometimes, when you take a great risk, life rewards you ten-fold.

Bonne Continuation, Atelier Vime!

To discover the world of Atelier Vime:
In English, click here.
En Français, cliquez ici.
They can be found on instagram at: @ateliervime

If you would like to see more from my series concerning the renovation of the Hôtel Drujon, see below...

And finally, as we are talking about Anthony, here is his fabulous vacation rental in Paris...

I hope that you enjoy all of this and by all means, let me know if you pick up a copy of Architectural Digest.

With my Best from Provence,
As always, thank you for being here,

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Light, shadow, texture and love part two - Venice and Provence

It was the smallest of moments.

Yesterday morning.

The rain had stopped - it was only pattering anyway - and the sun was reaching through like a loud yawn, the kind that makes your head snap around with surprise. Especially when it belongs to you.

Up ahead a bob of movement, a daughter and mother turning the corner. I followed, drawn.

For the girl was so tiny that I wasn't sure how she could keep herself upright. And yet, she did and was walking. Balanced on her toes, heels aloft, arms raised like wings for balance and head towards the sky, she propelled herself forward. And forward. As if she were flying, barely touching the ground.

And because she was so surprised to have actually not fallen, that she was arriving with each step in this new movement, she laughed.  


With life. 

Such a small creature can shine such great joy. An everyday miracle.

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

-- Arundhati Roy

I am listening to this today after watching the blazing courage of Emmanuel Macron last night in the final French presidential debate before the elections. It gives me great Hope to have seen him call out so fearlessly someone whose only wish is to separate and destroy. And I was especially delighted that former President Barack Obama gave his unequivocal support today.. "L'espoir est en marche..."


This post is the fourth in the series of "Little and Big." It is a subject that I love to return to - the importance that the smallest of things can provide in our daily lives.
I think that some of you are missing Provence, so if you would like to visit or revisit the rest of the series, please click the following links:

And have a wonderful weekend!