From his small village of Salles, in the deepest Tarn region, Patrice Gelbart is like an artist creating a cuisine based exclusively on fresh produce that’s light years from the clichés of regional cooking.
Patrice Gelbart comes from a wonderful village of red sandstone in the depths of the Tarn with all of 50 inhabitants, where, in his own words he pursues his “labour of love" – cooking. After a long period of field research, this young chef and owner of Aux Berges du Cérou, has developed unique relationships with his locality and its farmers and suppliers. However there’s a delicious paradox: his cuisine is as far from regionalism, traditions and unimaginative cassoulets as you can get! In fact it’s anything but regional South-West French cuisine. Whilst Patrice with his eight-day old beard, Cro-Magnon style mane of hair and dark eyes gives an impression of being a tad coarse, his cooking radiates a deep understanding of modern gastronomy.
As a great fan of herbs, tomatoes and vegetables he creates, like an artist, his own style of cuisine consisting exclusively of (mostly organic) fresh produce. Along with his other Generation C friends, he has also campaigned for the restaurant business to flatly refuse the use of GMOs - the anonymous products that belong in the laboratories where they came from. Although he acknowledges, with a touch of acrimony, that few chefs are following suit.
On the other hand the things Gelbart loves are “dishes that tell a story, or describe a particular producer.” His cuisine is “based on everyday products which are transformed into noble ones” and “cooking from the heart that he loves to eat.” He presents himself as one of the rare chefs that never makes lists or orders as he adapts his requirements to the farmers and suppliers who have come to trust him. According to Patrice they usually find chefs to be "over temperamental." So in his restaurant’s cold room you find products from master cheese makers, meat from farmer-butchers, artisanal salt, fresh herbs, pork reared on straw bedding, or Aveyron veal raised on mother’s milk.
Gelbart has the same approach in his relationship with wines and the winemakers, who soon become friends, like Bernard Plageoles (see his video portrait.) This luminary winemaker from Gaillac and our chef from the Tarn went together to the Turin Salone del Gusto food show to put on a little presentation of their food and wine partnership. Gelbart incidentally has nothing but praise for this organization which identifies and promotes small producers from around the world – “it’s such a great treasure!” In wine, Gelbart also looks for “story and character” and a drink that’s never the same from one year to the next. His dining room alter ego, Stephen Carrasco nods in agreement whilst filling glasses of Plageoles’ Mauzac Nature.
So what’s the food like, you may ask? It’s delicate and light, almost like health food with a rapid preparation, plenty of raw and semi cooked elements, a few flowers and lots of flavours with a tendency towards a sharpness that gives a certain clarity: fillet of meagre fish, mashed potato with lemon, ham and citrus bouillon; raw Mediterranean blue fin tuna with apple and vinegar, green mango, squid in its ink, pickled vegetables, wholegrain mustard ice cream, poached peach, saffron ice cream, Hibiscus syrup.
During the winter closure of his Aux Berges du Cérou restaurant in Salles, Gelbart provisionally goes to work at the stoves of Verre volé, one of Paris’ best natural wine bars. Amongst its top customers is Michel Bras, an Aveyron neighbour who seemingly also loves dishes that tell a story.
Aux Berges du Cérou
Rue du Pont
Tel: 05 63 76 40 42
Le Verre volé
67 rue de Lancry
Tel: 01 48 03 17 34
NB: Before going to eat chez Patrice Gelbart, we stopped in Monestiès to admire the extraordinary and sublimely elegant Entombment (1490) of Saint-Jacques chapel. Among the characters, whose faces are striking in their realism, we noted the inclusion of Louis 1st of Amboise, the Bishop of Albi.