Chef Mauro Colagreco: “When you work with a product from nature you try to make it something beautiful. It’s my way of creation.”
A highlight of the 21st edition of the Tribeca Film Festival is Vérane Frédiani and Franck Ribière’s brilliant documentary Reinventing Mirazur, executive produced by Yuji Shimoyama and Quentin Ransohoff, on Argentinian Chef Mauro Colagreco and his team working on a new menu for the reopening of his restaurant following the removal of the lockdown in France.
Chef Mauro Colagreco with Anne-Katrin Titze on the Lunar Calendar: “It was Rudolf Steiner, who was the father of Biodynamics who worked on it. And then Maria Thun …”
According to the Lunar Calendar there are flower days, root days, leaf days, and fruit days. This enchantingly poetic concept, based on cosmic changes and the position of the planet, decides the menu daily in one of the greatest restaurants of the world. Mauro Colagreco’s three Michelin star studded MIrazur is located in the coastal hills of Menton in the South of France, not far from Monaco.
After having been awarded the honour of Best Restaurant in the World in 2019, COVID hit and during the periods of lockdown, Mauro decided to take on the challenge of a complete change in menu for the reopening in 2021. The film Reinventing Mirazur chronicles Mauro’s fascinating journey there, from growing up in Argentina, to his work for some of France’s most renowned chefs, to overcoming the hesitancy of the team at Mirazur to embark on an entirely original path. We see Mauro in his divine garden on the hills, contemplating the future of his restaurant and hear from his family, friends, staff, colleagues, and the food critic Andrea Petrini.
Chef Mauro Colagreco in his kitchen garden
After just having arrived in New York, Chef Mauro Colagreco joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on his restaurant, his mother’s gnocchi, favourite authors, and Reinventing Mirazur.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Hello Mauro!
Mauro Colagreco: Hello!
AKT: You’re in New York?
MC: Yes, I just arrived.
MC: Thank you!
AKT: I just checked the Lunar Calendar. It’s a Leaf Day today, so can I cook kale [from R&P Produce Growers, Orange County, New York] later on?
MC: Yes you can! How is everything Anne-Katrin? Good?
AKT: Yes, all’s well. Are you still doing that? Are you still doing the Lunar menu?
MC: Of course! Now it’s the third season. We started in 2020, then we stopped for eight months because in France there was a lockdown for eight months, the restaurant was closed for eight months and then we restarted in 2021 until now.
AKT: It’s such a fabulous idea. I never looked it up before. Where did this originate? It’s an ancient calendar; tell me a little bit about that first!
MC: Well, the calendar is for the agriculture actually, you know. It was Rudolf Steiner, who was the father of Biodynamics who worked on it. And then Maria Thun who was a disciple of Steiner who continued with this calendar. The calendar depends on the position of the moon in the sky. We believe in the influence of the energy of the moon on the plants and on all life in our planet. It’s scientific, but it’s not proven. It’s something we believe like a dream.
Chef Mauro Colagreco in Mirazur with former head chef Florencia Montes
AKT: Something we believe like a dream, that’s very poetic. You create and connect with cooking. When you connect with traditions they become truth when you execute them in a way, no?
MC: Yes, yes absolutely. In fact this idea was extremely good for me and for the team and for the energy we needed in this period for reopening Mirazur. For making these changes and this message to our customers. Because it’s something, like you say, very poetic, very romantic. And we believe our society needs that. It needs to continue to dream, to continue to look up at the sky.
You know, when you look at the sky and you look for the stars and the moon you wake up your imagination. It’s something you look at without knowing exactly what is there. So yes, it was something spectacular for us. And it was so nice to see our customers with plenty of emotion. Some of them crying about the experience they lived in our restaurant. So yes, we continue because we believe it’s a nice message we give.
AKT: It’s fantastic because it connects to a story, it connects to storytelling itself. Are you also still doing the picnics in your beautiful, beautiful, beautiful garden?
MC: We may, but in very short periods of the year. When it’s very hot, in the summertime it can be very hot, it’s not too funny to be in the garden with the high temperature. And the same in winter for the rain season. We may, but not all the time.
AKT: It’s the most spectacular amuse gueule that I have ever seen in a film.
MC: No, yes, it’s so nice, Anne-Katrin! And especially after the first lockdown. How we did that was we thought about the people after three months some of them closed in an apartment. We were thinking about how these people who were coming and were maybe not very comfortable in a restaurant with many people. So we were making that to de-stress our customers upon their arrival and that’s worked very well. It’s so nice to see all those people after this catastrophe smiling there, in contact with the nature.
Chef Mauro Colagreco overlooking Menton, France
AKT: People missed it so much. I think the appreciation for being able to go to a restaurant, to have the experience has been renewed. People took it for granted before and now it’s different. The time of reinvention. It’s so perfect that you decided to completely change the menu, to not go back and pretend that we are the same. Because we are not the same anymore.
MC: Yes, that was something very hard for the team but very important for me to make a cut from the past. Even though it was the year of Mirazur, because 2019 was three Michelin stars, Best Restaurant in the World.
MC: So we could serve all those recipes with which we achieved all that from years and years but we decided to make a totally new step and a new menu. But that gave us a lot of energy as well to create and welcome the people with another kind of vision. It’s of course the same style of cuisine but in a new wave and a new approach. That was really fantastic. We take risks, we take a lot of risks, because we put all of our achievement on the table and we say, okay, we don’t work for that. We achieved that in the past, we are very happy with that, but now we must go and change and continue with a new challenge.
Chef Mauro Colagreco on Florencia Montes: “My head chef, left to do her own project she is now looking for. But we are still in very nice contact and I help her in finding something.”
AKT: The stars look positively on this. It’s very very clear. The fact that you were named the Best Restaurant in 2019, the last one before the pandemic hit. Not many other restaurants would have taken the risk of change you just described. How was it to see yourself on screen in the film about this reinvention? You did see the finished film, didn’t you?
MC: Yes, I saw the film in San Sebastian at the Film Festival. It’s never easy to see yourself on the screen. I’m always a little scared about seeing myself. I think it’s a very nice film which really represents this period of my life, this period of the life of Mirazur. The message is very positive and we talk about something real, no? We must change the way we consume, the way we produce. I’m very happy because it’s something that I’m proud of. I’m proud of this film and of the message we try to spread.
AKT: Besides being named Best Restaurant in the World, you also have the Emblem of Sustainable Gastronomy, which is so important.
AKT: Your sister in the film says that you always used to cook with Mama. What’s your first memory of cooking with Mama?
MC: Ha! I remember her doing gnocchi, fantastic gnocchi. As it is with these memories, nothing can be better. These memories are the best. For me the gnocchi of my mom were obviously the best gnocchi in the world. I make this with the pasta of the gnocchi with the potatoes and flour and eggs. I roll the gnocchi and then cut [Mauro’s hands illustrate the actions for me]. I remember making that with my mom. It’s a very very nice memory.
Chef Mauro Colagreco experimenting on a new dish to add to the menu
AKT: What went with the gnocchi? What did she make with it?
MC: Ah! She made gnocchi with a tomato sauce. She’d do a fantastic tomato sauce. It was fantastic. It was my best meal ever, you know. I always asked from my mom to do this for me.
AKT: I liked the scene near the end of the film where you and your team are all celebrating with pizza from the outdoor oven that has a special door from Uruguay. How is your team doing? Are all of them still there or did you have big changes in the meantime?
MC: No, practically all of them are still in the restaurant. Just Florencia, my head chef, left to do her own project she is now looking for. But we are still in very nice contact and I help her in finding something. But the rest of the team, practically all of them are still at Mirazur. You know this period was a big challenge for the whole team and we became like a real family. We help each other when somebody has a problem; we are all there to help. It’s a very nice team.
AKT: It came across that way. The dishes themselves are little works of art. There are great dishes that other chefs make, but not all of them look like artworks. Are you inspired by paintings? Where does the inspiration come from as far as the look is concerned? It’s very clear that you take inspiration from the ground, from the beauty of the vegetables themselves, the plants, the earth, but does man-made art come in?
Reinventing Mirazur poster
MC: Yes, you’re right. I like beauty. I like beauty, I like life. The beauty of nature but art as well. I have a background not just in the kitchen. I have a Bachelor in Literature, then I studied at university, then I started to cook. So I was lucky to have a very large vision and travel a lot, visiting many countries, a lot of museums and studied some of the best artists in the world. So, yes, I love art and of course with some of my dishes sometimes I try…
AKT: And make a little Mondrian or Monet?
MC: Yes, but I think the most beautiful on this planet is nature. When you work with a product from nature you try to make it something beautiful. It’s my way of creation.
AKT: You studied literature, what are some of your favourite authors?
MC: It’s very difficult - Pablo Neruda, Camus. Plenty of authors. I love reading. I try to read every day. A lot of French writers and South American ones, because they were what I read the most. When you open a book you always find something nice, no? Yeah, there are boring books, but the big ones in literature are all interesting.
AKT: I agree with you, there is always something to take from it.
MC: Kafka! I love Kafka for example.
AKT: Did you ever make a Kafka dish?
MC: No, he’s so intellectual, Kafka.
Fashion Reimagined screens at Village East by Angelika on Wednesday, June 15 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: It’s great talking to you!
MC: One day when you come to France, Anne-Katrin, I would love to invite you to my restaurant, to Mirazur.
AKT: I will take you up on that!
MC: To make the experience yourself.
AKT: I’ll come!
MC: Thank you, Anne-Katrin, thank you so much! Hope to see you soon!
The remaining cinema screenings of Reinventing Mirazur are on Wednesday, June 15 at 7:45pm - Village East by Angelika: Theater 5 with an introduction by Vérane Frédiani and Franck Ribière; Saturday, June 18 at 2:15pm - Tribeca Film Center. Available At Home on Wednesday, June 17 starting at 6:00pm.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs through June 19.