Based in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, in the Haute-Loire, for over thirty years, Régis Marcon, whose cuisine was awarded a third star in the Michelin Guide 2005, has just obtained an “ecolabel” for his troglodyte hotel. In every season, the natural environment – respected by the “silent architecture” of the buildings* – takes the place of honour, both visually and on your plate…
On one of the many bends in the road leading from Tain l’Hermitage to Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, the experienced eye spots bedstraw on the verge. Régis and his wife Michèle don’t need to speak: a mere look suffices for the car to do a U-turn and stop level with this yellow flower, which will end up in a sorbet on a plate at the splendid restaurant of Régis and Jacques (the eldest son) Marcon.
The hotel establishment obtained the ecolabel certification in June 2009 from Chantal Jouanno, Secretary of State for Ecology. “The older we get, the more we love this land, so preserving it is our priority,” confides Michèle Marcon.
At present, only the hotel has got the certification, but their approach is sustainable and, above all, global. It is not a question of merely complying with standards, but sometimes outstripping them. On the restaurant’s tables they serve still tap water, which can also be carbonated in order to limit glass and plastic waste.
Although a native of Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, Régis Marcon has had to win over his region. One never really belongs to a place. Today, after thirty years of perseverance, Régis Marcon is on intimate terms with the Le Puy-en-Velay region. On foot, by bicycle or on skis, he has relentlessly immersed himself in this land that many have forsaken.
The village has been deserted and the school nearly closed down. But the chef is different: he has been able to find hidden treasures in the nooks and crannies of an apparently hostile land. And in the undergrowth, mushrooms that are the stamp of the Marcon style: the russula mustelina with its fresh hazelnut taste; the lactarius fuscus with its coconut-like aromas; the clitocybe odora with its aniseed flavours... There, in summer, the meadows are carpeted with forgotten flowers. What on earth do adderwort, sorrel, victory onion, cardamine, willowherb, bracken, shepherd’s purse, rampion, black bryony, southernwood and sweet woodruff look like? These plants and flowers also go into the cuisine of this “nature-mad” chef.
Of course, the man has also been away: he has gone to seek elsewhere the things that keep him here. In Asia, he became aware of the richness of his plateaux. In Japan, he realised that food and recipes have the depth of their history. So Régis’ cuisine bears the stamp of the past and of the land (Le Puy green lentils, chestnuts, char, mushroom menu, etc.); but it also gives a nod, here and there, to his travels, as witnessed by the “pho et langoustines retour du Vietnam” or the potatoes with seaweed that Régis devised one morning alone in his kitchen. “I had a craving for iodine and Asia.” Why potatoes? “They were planted for the first time in France in the 16th century in the Haut-Vivarais, around the village of Saint-Alban-d’Ay. A stone’s throw from here.”
We watch him lean over the food like a sculptor setting to work on a block of marble. He confessed later in the day that he enjoyed the contact with the produce. When he starts cooking, it is his entire being that is in the kitchen, body and mind, to deliver up his land which, like Lewis Carroll’s, conceals wonders that he alone detects.
* Words of architect Jean Michel Brouillat.
Restaurant Régis & Jacques Marcon
Tel: + 33 (0)4 71 59 93 72
Fax: + 33 (0)4 71 59 93 40