From La Plata, Argentina to working with culinary stalwarts like Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse in Paris, to opening his own restaurant in Menton, France, Italian-origin Argentine master chef Mauro Colagreco has had quite a journey. He opened his restaurant Mirazur in 2006 in a 1930s rotunda building between craggy mountains and the azure waters of the French Riviera. Within six months, Colagreco was recognised as ‘Revelation of the Year’ by the prestigious Gault & Milau restaurant guide followed quickly by the first Michelin star for the restaurant in 2007. In January 2019, Mirazur received its third Michelin star and in June it was announced as No. 1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Colagreco was in Mumbai in early March as part of the Masters of Marriott programme where he presented two nine-course dinners at The St. Regis Mumbai. We caught up with him for a quick chat.
How would you describe the food at Mirazur?
Everyone wants to put my food in a box and they ask whether it is French, Italian, or Argentinian cuisine. Mirazur is located on the border of France and Italy and we have 14 different nationalities in our kitchen, which is unusual in France. I think that defines our cuisine; we cannot put a nationality to it, it is food without borders. Also, we don’t have a menu at Mirazur; we make dishes from the best local and seasonal ingredients available that day. I try to make dishes that you will remember, something tasty with texture. We don’t have a signature dish as such; some recipes are on the menu only for a day, some stay for a year or two. Our Salt-crusted Beetroot with Caviar has been on the menu for three years now. It’s one of my favourite dishes and there are just two ingredients in this recipe.
Mirazur has become the first plastic-free restaurant in the world. Tell us more about that and other sustainable initiatives at the restaurant.
We no longer have any single-use plastic at the restaurant, not even the plastic (cling) film. Last year, just one restaurant (Mirazur) used 10,000 kilometres of film, which is a shame. So imagine the impact around the world. Another thing we do is cultivating our gardens using permaculture. We defend the biodiversity of nature; it’s a big fight with companies that have monopoly on seeds. So we try to defend the old varieties of seeds without (genetic) modification. The biggest challenge we have right now is to rethink our food production, how we grow our plants and how we raise our meat, because if we don’t change that, our future will be difficult.
How has travelling influenced your cooking?
Travel is one of the three things that inspire my cooking (the other two being memories and nature). I opened a restaurant in China seven years ago and it was a very rich experience for me to travel there and discover Chinese cuisine. It’s a totally different approach from the Western vision of food; all the different textures I found in Chinese cuisine had an impact on my own style of cooking. Travel plays a pivotal role for me to expand my vision of food and of various cultures and traditions, which is extremely important for a chef.
What was your most memorable trip?
One of my most memorable trips was in Udaipur. It was my first time in India and I didn’t expect to find this beauty. And as a chef it was great to discover all these flavours and spices. I also loved travelling to Japan, China, and Mexico.
What was your most memorable meal?
I always remember this meal I had in 2005 at Mugaritz in Spain’s Basque Country (the two-Michelin starred Mugaritz is often ranked amongst the world’s best restaurants).
What are the must-try dishes you recommend for anyone travelling to Argentina?
Argentina is a large country so food varies across regions. I love Salta in the north where we have a very rich and traditional style of cooking. You must eat locro, a thick, spicy stew of slow-cooked corn, cabbage, beans, and meat, which is usually eaten in winter. On the other end we have Patagonia, where you have plenty of fantastic seafood like merluza negra, which is a local variety of black cod. It’s quite fatty and melts like butter in the mouth when grilled. And then, of course, in Buenos Aires you must go to dance the tango and eat some meat.
You have two young boys. How do you decide where to travel with them?
They are very energetic so we need to choose very well. We usually go to a beach destination where they can expend their energy. Or to the mountains, but always a place where there’s contact with nature.
What do you always pack in your suitcase?
A book and swimming shorts.
What do you like to bring back from your travels?
New foods that I discovered in the place, that’s why I want to visit the spice market in Mumbai tomorrow. I also like to bring back seeds for our garden at Mirazur.