“We don’t have four seasons at Mirazur… we have 365.”
What drives a chef and motivates them in their work? Is it the satisfaction and creative freedom of designing new dishes and having the opportunity to experiment with tastes? Is it the praise of guests and critics?
Perhaps it’s their dream to one day have their restaurant recognised as the world’s very best?
For Chef Mauro Colagreco, whose restaurant Mirazur topped The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2019 and has held the title ever since, receiving this recognition was by no means the finishing line – instead, it was simply a new starting point.
“These awards, these recognitions…”, Colagreco explained to the team behind the 50 Best list, “It motivates us to keep trying to question ourselves and improve.”
To the vast majority of visitors, the idea of improvement at Mirazur may seem almost impossible.
The restaurant sits in an incredible part of the commune of Mention, overlooking the dazzling coastline and offering unrivalled views of the French Riviera. Surrounding Mirazur are three levels of lush, abundant gardens, lovingly cared for by the restaurant team and by Colagreco himself – gardens which are the source of much of Mirazur’s fresh produce.
A vast variety of vegetables and range of delicious citrus fruits are all grown in Mirazur’s gardens, which also play home to several varieties of hens and chickens, producing fresh eggs for use at the restaurant each day. Almost everything found in Mirazur’s gardens is incorporated into Colagreco’s dishes, including the beautiful wildflowers found throughout.
Freshness and sustainability are the central focus at Mirazur, which inspired Colagreco’s bold decision to remove the menus at the restaurant to allow him to change the dishes on offer each day. The food at Mirazur is not simply inspired by the ingredients found in the garden, it is created entirely around it.
“When people ask if I work in seasons and change the menu at the restaurant,” he explains, “I say that we do not have four seasons at Mirazur, we have 365 seasons.”
“Everything grows here. Here, we make a culture out of permaculture.”
As for the aspects of Mirazur’s dishes which cannot be sourced from their gardens, there is still a central focus on ensuring that all ingredients are as fresh as they possibly can be. Even the fish used at the restaurant finds its way from the sea to the plate on the very same day – a value that Colagreco is unwilling to compromise on.
“If Lionel does not fish,” Colagreco says, in reference to the restaurant’s lead fisherman, “There is no fish at the restaurant. We will serve meat, vegetables, other things that day.”
Argentinian-born Colagreco moved to France in his 20s, where he worked with the celebrated chef Bernard Loiseau until his death in 2003. It was three years later, in 2006, that Colagreco would open Mirazur for the first time at the age of just 29.
The restaurant has gone from strength-to-strength in the fifteen years since its opening, having steadily climbed the ranks of The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list since it entered the list at No. 35 in 2009, finally topping the list in 2019 – the same year that Colagreco would become the first foreign-born chef to have his restaurant receive three stars in the French Michelin guide.
However, it was 2020 that would present Mirazur, along with millions of other restaurants around the world, with its biggest challenge yet.
After a decade-and-a-half of foraging, creating and cooking for hours on end each day, Colagreco was faced with a sudden and stark lifestyle change, as Mirazur was forced to close due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The three-month period of closure gave Colagreco plenty of time to consider his vision for Mirazur whilst at home with his family, stepping back and taking a look at his restaurant during this rare opportunity for reflection. To the surprise of many, he was unhappy with what he saw.
Whilst tending to his garden at home, Colagreco came to the realisation that he wanted to overhaul Mirazur completely, even further inspired by the focus on farming, freshness and sustainability that had made the restaurant so successful in the first place. This time, however, it was all about biodynamic farming.
Biodynamic agriculture is the practice of fruits, vegetables and other plants being grown and harvested following the phases of the moon, in the belief that the rhythm and cycle of the moon inform the quality of plants throughout their lifetime. The biodynamic planting calendar devised using this theory serves as a guide to farmers on the optimum times to grow, plant, cultivate and harvest their crops – and, therefore, the best time to serve them in a range of exquisite gourmet dishes under Mirazur’s brand new menu, Universe Mirazur.
Upon reopening on June 12th 2020, Colagreco debuted the Universe Mirazur menu, which sees the restaurant serve tasting menus inspired by the timing of the biodynamic planting calendar, categorised by ‘leaf days’, ‘flower days’ ‘root days’ and ‘fruit days’. The menu being served that day is chosen depending on which plants should, theoretically, have the strongest lunar ‘energy’ embedded within the flavours.
It was a delightfully, and perhaps characteristically, experimental idea – and one which appears to have done wonders for not just the way that the restaurant operates, but the way that Mauro Colagreco feels about his work.
“I couldn’t imagine re-opening the restaurant as it was before. I lost all motivation. It was a really difficult time for me,” Colagreco says, “But I knew that this was the time to mobilise and to provoke change.”
‘Change’ is now a core value at Mirazur, with this bold new menu seeing the restaurant switch up every aspect of its operation – the food, the decor and even staff uniforms – multiple times each week in accordance with the biodynamic calendar.
With COVID-19 restrictions still affecting the restaurant, it may yet be too early to see whether or not these thematic changes will take a toll on the popularity or success of Mirazur. Colagreco, however, says that this is not a concern.
“Our goal is not to be the best restaurant in the world but to provoke emotions in our diners and to cook with passion. Stars and awards help to recognise our work but they are not our ultimate goal.”
With everything they have been through over the past year, it’s clear that Mauro Colagreco and his team are prepared to deal with any and all circumstances that the restaurant may encounter – and that they’ll find a way to deal with it in a fashion that is unique to Mirazur itself.