FATHER AND SON, Chef Rene and Chef Maxime Meilleur have had an amazing trajectory. From a farming family background they have risen to becoming world renown Chefs. Their restaurant La Bouitte is literally the highest 3* Michelin restaurant in Europe; situated in the tiny Alpine village of Saint-Martin de Belleville, at the gates of the largest skiing area of the world, the Three Valleys. At the beginning, René and Marie-Louise served fondues and local cuisine, then inspired by Paul Bocuse the turned to haute cuisine. In 1996, their son Maxime a former biathlete in the junior French team, joined them and a Michelin-starred restaurant was born.
Rene, When La Bouitte ("little house" in the local Savoie dialect), first opened it served fondue and raclette, how did the menu evolve? Tell us about that "culinary epiphany" of a dinner at Paul Bocuse.
R: Il was in 1981 and my first experience in a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. It was a shock. I had the feeling that our territory enabled us to create an exceptional culinary experience. Since then I have been working to express the best of my valley in my own way.
Maxime, how does a former biathlete in the Junior French Ski team, draw inspiration from the values of sport to become a chef?
M: I was biathlete in the France junior team. I recall it was during the month of February more than 20 years ago that I came in to help my father make a custard in the La Bouitte kitchen. In that moment, I had a revelation, I wanted to stay and work there. I have not left since. The values and rigor of sport have served me a lot to manage La Bouitte. There is the same sense of details, precision, and a competitive spirit to always improve.
What is your definition of a 'good' meal?
R: a good meal gives you pleasure thanks to both its taste and its texture
M: a good meal is for me surprising, gourmand, with a hidden technique. It gives a feeling of evidence, clearness (“limpidité” in French).
What was your most memorable meal ever?
R: Poultry in bladder of Paul Bocuse ; in our House, the féra (lake fish of Savoy)
M: Candied veal chop with chanterelles of my grandmother (Côtes de veau confites de ma grand mere aux girolles)
Food creates memories. Is there a dish that instantly evokes a favourite travel experience or destination?
R: couscous in Morocco ; pasta in Italy
M: Sushi in Japan ; pasta in Italy
|'... when we travel we prefer to discover the local products and the culture of the destination'.|
Which countries and which cuisines are you most influenced by?
R: the unique influence is the one of my region: Savoy
M: I find inspiration in all mountain regions: in the French and Italian Alps, but also in middle Mountain destinations like Saint Bonnet le Froid (Marcon restaurant) or l’Aubrac (restaurant Bras).
You have your own boutique hotel. What does 'luxury ' (in relation to travel) mean to you?
R: luxury during travel means to take pleasure, to see magnificent places. I like a mixture between simplicity and perfection
M: the genuine luxury is when time disappears, when we let go (“lâcher-prise”). It’s what we try to do for our guests: we offer them a House to live in, out of the world and out of time.
When travelling, is there a 'comfort food' dish which reminds you of home?
R & M: our Home is so unique and singular that nothing in the world is like it. And anyway, when we travel we prefer to discover the local products and the culture of the destination
Apart from your own, what are some of your favourite restaurants?
R: Le Clos des Sens (Laurent Petit) in Annecy : Régis Marcon in Saint Bonnet le Froid ; Gérald Passédat in Marseille.
M: La Vague d’Or in Saint Tropez (Arnaud Donckele) ; L’Astrance (Pascal Barbot) in Paris ; Paul Bocuse near Lyon.
Other chefs that inspire you?
R: Paul Bocuse at the beginning, but now I would say none. We develop our own universe.
M: What inspire us is our local environment, our family and friends, our local producers, the landscapes around us.
Name your favourite hotels?
R: Hôtel Bellevue in Cogne
M: Hôtel Bellevue in Cogne, Hôtel La Co(o)rniche in The Cap Ferret and Hôtel du Castellet near Bandol.
The cruise liner is about to sink, which three ingredients do you take to the desert island?
R: butter, milk and féra
M: potato, Beaufort (famous cheese of our mountains) and an orange.
Goals for the future
R: to continue to improve our House in the most natural way, and to get to the point by removing everything that is useless (particularly in our Cuisine)
M: to always offer more comfort and a unique and genuine hospitality to our guests, to share time and our passion of our territory with them.
Read The Luxury Travel Bible's review of La Bouitte