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“It’s tough being a woman in an all-male environment”. This was the opening quip of our conversation with Maryline Nozahic: French born but Swiss naturalized, she is the chef of the charming little restaurant, La Table de Mary in Vugelles-la-Mothe, a village close the French border, surrounded by lakes and coniferous trees not far from Yverdon-les-Bain.
At the age of 37, she was elected ‘Chef of the Year 2012’ by the Gault Millau guide for her ‘boldness, savoir-faire and generosity, but without succumbing to the influence of fashionable trends’: we met her during the fourth evening of S.Pellegrino Sapori Ticino, in the course of which Maryline Nozahic cooked alongside Andrea Bertarini in the kitchen of the Conca Bella restaurant of Vacallo.
What has been your own experience as a female chef?
After attending hotelier school I worked in a great number of different kitchens: I even went to Germany, and changed restaurants frequently, hoping to find the right one for me. In all spheres of life, women have to work twice as hard to be successful, but even more so in a kitchen: the working hours are impossible and your physical endurance is put to a very tough test. I settled in Switzerland where I met my husband: when my daughter was born, I realized that the only possible solution was to open my own restaurant, where I can select my staff and have the last word.
Do you prefer men or women as your assistants?
At the present time, I only have men in my kitchen, but there was nothing intentional about this choice, it just happened that way.
What advice would you give to women intending to take up your profession?
Loads of will-power and character. It’s the only way to survive: ignore the fatigue, the wisecracks and the teasing of your workmates.
The secret is to do your utmost to earn their respect. Your cooking philosophy is based on “produits sans les dénaturer”: can you clarify this concept?
I have worked for many years in a little village of one hundred inhabitants and today at La Table de Mary I have also learnt to respect my ingredients; my clients are accustomed to unadulterated and uncontaminated flavours. That is why I choose to use local produce: vegetables, pikeperch from the lake, herbs and the marvellous tomme vaudoise made from raw milk that I use in a thousand different ways. I want each ingredient to be immediately identifiable, each time a morsel of food from one of my dishes comes into contact with the palate. I normally set myself the following rule: never combine more than three flavours in one dish.
And what will be your main course this evening?
I have planned to do a Pata Negra pork fillet cooked in a rather special way: at a low temperature in fresh grass, with the addition of some rosemary and thyme sprigs. I have also added a vegetable flan and two potato quenelles flavoured with wild garlic. In other words, I wanted to bring a recipe to the canton of Ticino that well represents me and comprises various cooking techniques in a complete dish, along with the typical aromas of Vugelles-la-Mothe, the village I live in.
It sounds tempting: you will share the recipe for this dish with Fine Dining Lovers, won’t you?
I have to confess a problem of mine: I find it very difficult to put my recipes down in writing for the simple reason that I often change some of the ingredients, even at the last minute. I rely entirely on my sense of taste and instinct, generally adjusting the dish as I go and tasting it all the time.
What dish and wine would you never tire of?
I am particularly fond of pigeon so if I think of the ultimate dish, it has to be pigeon with crême de cassis accompanied by a glass of Condrieu, a fragrant white wine from the Rhone Valley.