The three-Michelin-starred Michel Bras restaurant in the small village of Laguoile in the heart of Central France is renowned for its contemporary interpretation of the Gargouillou, the traditional Aubrac dish of ham, potatoes and vegetables.
I photographed this dish recently during a revelatory meal there.
“We have a very simple principle of respecting raw materials and following the seasons,” said Sebastien Bras, son of the founder Michel Bras, who recently retired. “We particularly rely on vegetables and plants using all sorts of flowers, herbs and seeds in our creations.”
The restaurant sources more than 230 cultivated vegetables, herbs and flowers in addition to foraging for hundreds more…wild thyme, fennel and flowers with names like queen of the fields, melilot and liveche… in the hills and valleys around Aubrac.
“Our technique is always used to accentuate the taste of the raw material, never the reverse,” Sebastian explained. “We don’t see ourselves as scientists and we are not at all interested in molecular gastronomy. Our cuisine is our way of sharing our love for our homeland, for life itself.”
There are paper thin slices of ham and potato, but there is also a delicately scattered assemblage of vegetables and seeds…slivers of zucchini, baby cauliflower, tiny carrots, sprigs of wild fennel…amidst artful smudges of wild thyme milk, and on top of it all a flutter of edible flowers…red, violet, yellow, blue and orange. I gasp at the dish’s exquisite beauty. And as I savor each bite, bursting with discrete and surprising flavors, I can’t help but marvel at its ingenuity.
Simple yet infinitely complex, this is the creation of whimsical souls. And though it may be a classic on the menu, it is, in fact, a photograph of nature at a certain moment as each tiny ingredient evolves with the inscrutable march of the seasons.
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