Happy 2015 everyone! Hope you had a splendid holiday and feel ready to kickstart this brand new year head & heart on. This may be my first post of ’15 but I’m going to take you back to the end of last year to when I had a very special encounter while in glitzy Monaco that ended my 2014 with a bang. Brace yourself because this is going to be an unusually long post but I promise every bit is worth it.
Courtesy of TCApr, I had the pleasure of sitting down with an extraordinarily talented Chef Paolo Sari for a very inspiring chat. Thanks to his creativity, passion, respect for both human health & nature, he earned a Michelin star for the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel’s Elsa Restaurant last year – the first ever for a 100 percent organic establishment.
Upon our introduction and as he escorted me into the understated yet suave eatery, I sensed his pride and joy. I was to learn very shortly after why. By being able to produce gourmet cuisine while highlighting the importance of health & nourishment, Elsa became the first gastronomic restaurant in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region to be certified Bio or organic.
Like a true Venetian, his daily culinary practice is guided by the motto ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (healthy mind is a healthy body) resulting in him imposing the absolute rule – what ever comes into his kitchen must be 100% organic from pepper to colas to champagne.
‘My food doesn’t fly’ Chef Paolo said as soon as we sat down. Seeing my puzzled expression, he explained ‘The ingredients on our menu are sourced from our fifteen gardens and farms within 60-mile radius of Monte Carlo including France & Italy. The produce are picked, delivered and cooked in a matter of hours. They don’t get on the plane.’
ASD: How did you start cooking in the first place?
PS: When i was young, I had a babysitter who was a very passionate and good cook. When she was looking after me, she cooked a lot and I used to help out. Thats how I developed this ‘sickness’ you can say (laughingly). And of course I traveled all around the world for many years. I lived in the US and UK and visited Asia a lot – Japan, China, Hong kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea. I saw beautiful things and the experience opened my mind & soul to all the ingredients and global gastronomic culture.
ASD: Can you summarize the concept of your cuisine in one short sentence?
PS: Tasteful & beautiful otherwise they don’t deserve to be on my table.
ASD: How did you arrive at ORGANIC cuisine?
PS: Mainly from my experience in Asia especially while I was living in Korea. Koreans are very attentive to organic ingredients and quality of the food. While there, I also lived in a monastery with the monks -producing rice & vegetables. They’re very attentive to nutrition which helps both the health & soul. That opened my mind together with other experiences that made up this definition of food for me. So when it came to finalizing, I believe that the future of this planet relies on us being responsible for what we eat and produce. So I strongly wanted to bring all this into an organic restaurant that became the future of my company.
ASD: When you create a new recipe, what process do you go through?
PS: You have inspiration. It can be any moment in your day. You can have a vision, an idea or something that switches on something then I sketch it on paper. The next day I go into the kitchen and tell my guys this is what I want and how it should taste. They produce it and and call me. I will fine tune it until the dish is perfect.
ASD: When it comes to plating, what makes a plate?
PS: The ingredients. Each ingredient has its own personality and you choose which ingredient is the main actor of your dish and focus on that.
ASD: Are there any rules when it comes to food composition in a dish?
PS: Just open your heart and soul and it’ll come out good – no there is no rule. It’s like making love. Is there a rule in making love? (Absolutely not, I replied). There is no rule in making love, just follow your feelings. It’s exactly the same with cooking.
ASD: What brings you to Monaco?
PS: Because SBM (Monte Carlo SBM Group) asked me to (haha). And because SBM is strong enough to back me up and support me with my project. It was a win-win situation. I brought a new spirit and new culinary history. I got to make history in Monaco.
ASD: What you’re doing is very new and unique and I know not a lot of people are open to the idea of health and organic. What’s your take on that?
PS: No not at all. It’s because information is wrongly conveyed. They think organic equals bland and boring diet foods. Organic is just producing without chemicals. People need to understand that it’s like consuming natural medicine. When you take Western medicine, the chemicals numb your body from pain but doesn’t actually cure. If you know your body and let time and the right process take its course you will feel better. It’s a matter of opening your heart and soul.
ASD: What can people expect when they come dine at Elsa? What makes it unique?
PS: I’m not eccentric. I give importance to the main actor of my dish whether it’s shrimp or lamb. I don’t over do it with sauces or cream. I let the main ingredient shine. My job is to find the best and freshest ingredients possible and that’s what you’ll get.
ASD: Do you give importance to seasonal produce?
PS: Of course – it’s the only way to eat. Everything here is seasonal and 100% organic. Like right now, you won’t find peaches and melons on the menu because the season is gone. All my ingredients come from Italy and France only. The 2 exceptions are coffee and cacao. They come from Africa’s organic Fair trade market. Otherwise, my ingredients are afraid to fly.
ASD: A lot of people around the world are becoming Vegetarian or Vegan, what’s your take on vegetarian food?
PS: 50% of farm produce in the world are harvested to use as animal feed. For every 100 caloric intake of the feed, animals retain only 4%. Then when you cook the animals to eat, you lose a further 80% of the nutritional properties. So basically your remain with almost nothing. So this shows how dumb we are to continue to produce plants for animals to eat the animals when we can just produce vegetables and eat them directly and retain 100% of the nutrients.
ASD: So do you a lot of plants in your menu?
PS: 50% of my menu consists of vegetables. There is no red meat in my menu only white including lamb & poultry.
ASD: Cooking at home and cooking at restaurants are very different. Any advice for people like myself who cook at home?
PS: Do your groceries yourself, go into the kitchen and have fun. See how you are feeling. Check out supermarkets and local markets for ingredients. Feel it, smell it and touch it. There is no law.
ASD: How do you make healthy tasty?
PS: Always focus on getting the best and freshest ingredients. If you’re buying tomatoes make sure they’re the best tomatoes so that even if you eat them on their own they’re already delicious. Try to buy local produce because foods that travel have to be picked at least 2 weeks in advance so by the time you eat them, they’re already old. The secret is to get ingredients that are as fresh as possible.
ASD: How did Elsa gain its Michelin star to be the only Organic restaurant ever to have done so?
PS: We first got the organic certification in June 2013 and that was possible because the agency responsible came over to check everything from our menu, our recipes, our ingredients, our suppliers, our producers and distributors. Then the Michelin star as you know is based on the quality of the restaurant. They came over many times, sometimes they tell you some times they don’t, and decided that Elsa was at a Michelin level. We were awarded a star in February 2014. We only buy produce that are certified organic by the law. We’re very respectful of our guests. What we say we do, what we do we say. No more no less.
ASD: What’s your signature Vegetarian dish at Elsa?
PS: The Bio Sama. It’s a composition of daily vegetables that we receive. It changes everyday but the concept remains the same. It’s like a vegetable bouquet with a little of salt and extra virgin olive oil.
ASD: How do you keep creative in the kitchen and constantly innovate something new?
PS: For me, it’s always the ingredients that stimulate everything. It’s what makes me want to create a new dish. The all natural organic ingredients.
This incredible chef not only sat down for long chat with me but also shelled out one of his favorite recipes so I can share with A Skinny Dish readers. I know it looks intimidatingly perfect for amateur chefs like myself but don’t be afraid to give it a go. Feel free to simplify the presentation and the ingredients to what is locally available to you!
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