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In the South of France, where the French and Italian borders meet at the sea, there is a town called Menton. It was here that in 2006 Chef Mauro Colagreco opened a restaurant named Mirazur. The spectacular setting of where Mirazur is located adds charm and warmth to the cuisine Colagreco prepares—a menu, using ingredients taken from the restaurant’s backyard and surrounding markets. Today, the establishment is known as the number one best restaurant in the world, according to the renown list by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
For Whitewaller Riviera 2019, we spoke with Colagreco about his life leading up to Mirazur, what’s special to him about the location and menu, and how he spends his time in the French Riviera.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your culinary background that led you to Mirazur, working in destinations like Buenos Aires and Paris.
MAURO COLAGRECO: It’s quite unusual… I decided that I wanted to cook when I was 20 years old, which is considered a late beginning in the industry. Sometimes a crisis can be dangerous, but sometimes it’s a blessing and leads to a great opportunity! In fact, when I had to decide what I first wanted to do as a job, I was confused. I couldn’t find my way. I tried to follow in my dad’s footsteps as an accountant, but as with every job, you must find passion in what you do. And this wasn’t the case here. I also tried to pursue a literary career, but that wasn’t for me either.
It was my sister who reminded me of the pleasure and happiness I used to feel when I was a child, when I used to cook with my grandmother. That memory turned out to be a real journey back to rediscovering myself and my true passion. Cooking is what I am. I could not be anything else.
I first arrived in France in 2001. I went to culinary school in La Rochelle. I was very lucky to get my first internship with triple starred Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy, who offered me a full-time position to work for him after a few months, and it went on from there!
WW: Tell us a bit about the unique setting in which Mirazur is hosted in—Menton, between the mountains and the sea, in a 1930s building with stunning views.
MC: I think Menton is a very unique place. Mirazur is set on the Italian-French border, and we use ingredients from local markets on both sides, which give a fantastic selection of fresh produce. Behind us we have mountains and in front of us is the Mediterranean Sea. Our cuisine is about that—no borders. About capturing the best products of each culture, which I think is why I was so drawn to Menton.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about working with local ingredients, from both the Ligurian coast on the Italian side and the Côte d’Azur on the French side?
MC: Due to the restaurant’s location on the border of France and Italy, I have access to abundant produce from Italy, namely green beans from Ventimiglia market, gamberonis from San Remo, and asparagus from Albenga. From France, I buy cherries from Gorbio, great goat’s cheese, Menton lemons, and fish from a master fisherman.
At Mirazur we also have our own gardens. I grow a large variety of herbs and many citrus trees including the famous local lemon called Citron de Menton. The vegetable garden where I grow my vegetables is only a few hundred yards from the restaurant, next to my own house. We collect fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers daily.
WW: What do you feel placed Mirazur at the #1 Worlds 50 Best spot this year?
MC: It’s incredible, we are so happy. This recognition from my esteemed colleagues and peers is a great honor. It recognizes the trajectory of my life from Argentina to the Riviera that welcomed me so warmly 19 years ago. I am overjoyed to bring this award back to France. I am from so many influences but above everything, I am a cook and I love to cook. My food is just from my heart, and I love to share it with my guests.
WW: What is one dish on the menu that you feel a newcomer must try?
MC: It’s difficult to pick out specific favorites as I cook food that I love to eat. I’m very fond of Bordighera squid, bagna cauda sauce, oysters and pears, the forest, Naranjo en flor… the list could go on! These are some classic dishes from Mirazur.
WW: Where do you like to go in the South of France to eat, drink, relax, or see art?
MC: Nice is the closest airport and has good places to eat, drink and relax. I like brunch at Negresco. The hotel is beautiful and houses lots of art including Sosno, Dalí, and Moretti. For more fine dining, I like Flaveur—a double Michelin starred restaurant from the Torteaux brothers. There is a good market, Cours Saleya, with lots of colorful stands. It has a real Mediterranean flavor. I always buy fresh flowers and seasonal fruit and vegetables [there]. The restaurant La Merenda, close to the market, for delicious local niçoise food!