Pâtisserie chefs, the new kitchen and media stars, have stepped out of the shadows and into the limelight. We turn the spotlight on Côte d'Azur maestros of all things sweet...
By Lionel Leoty
Au Mirazur, hommage en trompe-l'œil au citron de Menton par le chef pâtissier Marius Dufay, Prix Passion Dessert Michelin 2023.
© StudioPhenix Patrick Mesiano, chef pâtissier à l'Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo, et son chariot de desserts pour le restaurant Les Ambassadeurs by Christophe Cussac.
Chefs, once little known to the public, have attracted unprecedented attention in recent decades, some becoming television stars. Likewise, pâtissiers, often working in the shadow of top chefs, have drawn admiration in no time. In times gone by, diners at Michelin-starred restaurants would feast on desserts and pâtisserie trolleys without knowing the names of the people who created them. But now they're coming into their own. Christophe Michalak was one of the first to capture the imagination of Parisian tea-timers and pâtisserie connoisseurs, who discovered that a pâtissier could be creative, young, and highly photogenic. After winning the title of World Pâtisserie Champion in 2005, he found himself on the covers of magazines. And so began the era of the star pâtissier... Here in the region, Lilian Bonnefoi, head pâtissier at the legendary Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc since 1996, has also added a special touch to the end of meals. And in 2004, in the Principality, we discovered Patrick Mesiano's sumptuous trolleys brimming with crisp mille-feuilles and unforgettable babas at the Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo restaurant in the Hôtel Métropole. He still works alongside Christophe Cussac, now heading up the pâtisserie team at the new restaurant Les Ambassadeurs by Christophe Cussac. Lilian Bonnefoi and Patrick Mesiano were pioneers in this field, opening their respective shops in Antibes and Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Julien Dugourd, who joined the Chèvre d'Or in 2010, has followed in their footsteps and is winning admiration from all quarters with his excellent and highly Instagrammable Citron en Trompe-l'œil. He left the two Michelin-starred Eze establishment to open his pâtisserie in Nice. Before replacing Julien Dugourd at La Chèvre d'Or, the young Florent Margaillan – who has worked in some of the finest restaurants, notably with Yannick Alléno – delighted guests at the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat. A prodigy with a host of awards to his name (French Dessert Champion 2010, third place at the Mondial des Arts Sucrés, Pâtissier PACA 2022 Gault&Millau trophy), he loves working with local produce to create dazzling creations bursting with aromatic herbs. Pierre-Jean Quinonero replaced him at the Cap palace. Meticulous and precise, he is another star worth discovering (Michelin Passion Dessert Award 2023) for his flawless puff pastries and low sugar pâtisserie.
Sweet but not too sweet...
As well as gluten-free, the current trend is to work with less sugar, favouring the natural sweetness of fruit and adding ingredients such as birch sap. The young and passionate Lucas Simoncini at the Royal Riviera follows this philosophy in his seasonal creations, always gourmet and refined, which reflect the region's richness, from seashore to mountain. He is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding talents of his generation. Marius Dufay (Passion Dessert Michelin 2023) at the Mirazur*** in Menton draws his inspiration from nature directly and enjoys playing with materials and textures to captivate all the senses; his desserts are at one with Mauro Colagreco's cuisine. The same goes for Julieta Cañavate at Ceto*, who brings the sea to her dishes with sea fennel, seaweed, and seawater. A rising star to watch closely over the next few years is the brilliant young Manon Isnard: at the Domaine du Mas de Pierre in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, she excels in combining subtlety and delicacy with character in her creations. At Terre Blanche in the Var, Jérémie Gressier (a former Yannick Alléno chef) delights diners at Faventia* with his punchy creations rooted in local and Provençal heritage. Desserts used to take a back seat but have taken on a whole new meaning alongside savoury dishes – the inescapable conclusion to a well-rounded gastronomic experience.