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The last weeks have been full of emotions for Mauro Colagreco. Argentine by birth, French by adoption, Chef Colagreco watched on as his two-Michelin-star restaurant on the French Riviera, Mirazur, jumped to third place in The World's 50 Best Restaurants ranking, which was revealed on 19 June this year in Bilbao. "This award ceremony is like the Oscars for the restaurant industry," maintains Mauro Colagreco. "Starting from 50th place, the top names are announced one by one; it's a lot of pressure, as no one knows their ranking beforehand. We came fourth last year but everyone knows that the rankings change considerably from year to year, so making it in the first 15 was already a fantastic achievement. But when we realised we had made it to the top three, we couldn't quite believe it. It's incredible! We were absolutely delighted!", exclaims the chef, who used to work under Alain Passard at Arpège.
We met Mauro Colagreco some days after this big announcement, to hear what he's been working on recently.
You came fourth in the World's 50 Best last year and third this year. What do you think enabled you to take it one step further?
Essentially, I think it comes down to us winning more votes this year. More people have since come to experience our restaurant and those who have already been voted for us again this year. I don't think we changed anything really, even though we do constantly try to improve and try new things. We did have some renovation work done on the restaurant, but this was primarily to improve the setting for customers.
Is coming first place an ambition of yours?
The closer we get, the more we say that perhaps one day we might just come first. But this isn't our ambition. What's important now is to enjoy the way things are going at the moment, as this is already quite something. Coming first shouldn't be an ambition, because what really matters is that we have satisfied customers, who experience something unique and leave feeling inspired and uplifted. The different rankings and stars are indeed rewards for our work, but these rewards should not become the main objective.
At the beginning of your career, did you ever imagine you would get so far?
No, not at all. We have come much further than we could ever have dreamt of or imagined.
You always talk about 'we' and never 'I'. So, for you, these rewards are the result of teamwork...
Yes, undoubtedly! These rewards came about thanks to everyone, not only my teams, but also my wife Julia, who works with me. We spend more time in the restaurant than at home... so, in the end, it becomes your family.
You have just published your first book, Mirazur. Can you tell us more?
I have received quite a few offers from various publishers over the past few years, but I didn't feel ready. For many, publishing a book is a marketing device, often without much depth or meaning to it. I waited for Mirazur 's 10th anniversary so that I had something to tell. We have completed one cycle, and this book tells of the life of the restaurant and our philosophy on food. It's quite a literary book with a lot of text, but there are some beautiful photos taken by my friend Eduardo Torres too. We want to convey the world of Mirazur through this book, with the stunning landscapes, craftsmen, farmers and our teams. We also used different textures of paper and transparent pages to give more substance to the work. I am very pleased with the result.
Last April, you opened a restaurant, L'Estivale, at Nice airport. What made you decide to take on this challenge?
It really was a challenge, for a number of reasons. The first was that people tend to be in a hurry in airports and don't really have time to stop and sit down for something to eat unless they've missed their connection [laughs]. We had to come up with a tasty menu, something sophisticated, but that was quick to serve too. The other challenge was working with small local farmers. Airport restaurants are often managed by large firms located around the world, which means they work with big agri-food groups. But one of the things we wouldn't negotiate on was being able to hand-pick our suppliers. We overcame this challenge and made a radical change in the concept and way of doing the airport restaurant business. The restaurant chef is one of my former chefs, who I have worked with for six years. One of the good things for us is that L'Estivale is accessible to the public who come from outside the airport, as it is located before security. Many of our customers come from the businesses in the area surrounding the airport.
Which chefs would you love to partner up with to cook dinner together?
I've already worked with a number of chefs in my time, like Alain Passard or René Redzepi. But if I had to choose chefs who I haven't worked with yet, my first choice would be Olivier Roellinger, even though he handed over the baton to his son Hugo a few years ago. I love his approach to things! I would also say, Thomas Keller. I have huge respect for him.