Jerome Velasco travels to the middle of nowhere in France for a wonderful dinner at Michel Bras
The restaurant of Michel Bras is literally in the middle of nowhere, in a remarkably isolated spot that even our trusty GPS failed to locate. His eponymous restaurant is somewhere in the southern Massif Central of France (please check the map if you wish to know exactly where that is) in the remote hills of Aubrac, at an elevation of 4000 feet.
This was miles from civilization as I knew it. I have traveled the world and been to remote and desolate places; but for one dinner, even a hard-core foodie like myself was having second thoughts. Michel Bras shuns the limelight and is therefore not as famous as his more worldly Parisian counterparts. However, he is arguably the most revered and venerated chef in all of France. He's provided inspiration to countless chefs across the globe, including an entire generation of young Spanish avant-garde chefs in and around San Sebastian.
HAPPY IN THE COUNTRY
He has turned down opportunities to open in Paris, happily preferring to practice his trade in Aubrac, where he was born and raised. His mother taught him the basics of cooking, and everything else he learned on his own by reading, experimenting, tasting and exploring. He had no apprenticeships at big name restaurants, so his cooking is his own style, unencumbered and influenced only by the inspiration of the wonderful outdoors and his childhood memories.
His restaurant, which has three Michelin stars, looks out over the countryside, with unobstructed views as far as you can see. The sense of space is overwhelming. In the lounge just prior to dinner, we were served an incredibly sweet beetroot juice as an aperitif together with one of his specialties: a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg with cauliflower, black olives and cereal bread sticks. This was followed by a porcini mushroom tart that was light, fresh and flaky.
In the cavernous, modern kitchen we met Michel and Sebastien, his son and heir apparent. Michel strikes you as quiet but warm and cerebral, while the younger Bras sports a more outgoing personality. Meanwhile, in the main dining room, one of the first things they explain to you is the usage of the knife. In the tradition of nearby Laguiole, the French capital for knives, the knife is kept for use the entire evening similar to the locals who use a penknife and utilize it the entire day.