In pursuit of autumn at restaurant Bras in Laguiole
This is an episode I’ve been wanting to write about since far too long; on the road from Ghent to Girona by bike I seized the opportunity to pay a visit to one of the best restaurants of France, if not of the world. Michel Bras undoubtedly is a particular master Chef, he’s a self-taught cook who developed an own creative style focusing on fresh herbs and flowers from his personal garden. The best example hereof is the far-famed Gargouillou, a marvelous dish of fresh young vegetables, seeds, herbs and flowers, inspired by nature itself and served in his restaurant BRAS*** since over 30 years already. However, this probably ain’t his most renowned creation, it was back in 1981 that Michel Bras conceived the “coulant au chocolat”. This indulging chocolate biscuit with a creamy heart is…
Enough said, it’s obvious why I was eager to have a look in the kitchen of this three Michelin starred restaurant in the Midi-Pyrénées, a breathtaking region. I had to pedal hard to cross the Massif Central, but it was oh so rewarding to get the opportunity to do a brief cooking stage alongside Chef Sébastien, Michel Bras’ son, and his incredibly well-disciplined and truly devoted team of young cooks. One of them happened to be the son of the two Michelin starred Chef of Hostellerie St.Nicolas in Belgium.
Autumn is setting in and the morning is cold as I cycle all the way up to the restaurant, the kitchen staff is already operative preparing for lunch. My day begins at the vegetable section before helping at what they call “le porte-manger” where the flowery salads are pre-stored for service. The colours of the flowers from the family’s garden are incredible, it’s a real pleasure to work with such a beautiful produce.
At 10 o’clock it’s time for a 5 minutes coffee break, it’s an important part of the very structured working rhythm. We resume our tasks until staff lunch and clean our working stations to set it up for service, you can truly feel it’s a well-oiled machine from start till finish, everyone knows what and how. During lunch I’m allowed to observe how the Chef orchestrates the kitchen; once more communication appears to be vital to assure an immaculate service; silence and concentration being indispensable. Some of the plates are in perfect harmony with the dish and enhance it; fragile porcelain with a lovely coloured mark at the side. It was only later that I found out they were made by Roos van de Velde, a lovingly Belgian artist I had the chance to meet at Ann Vansteenkiste’s book presentation about herb and fruit infusions. But, that aside.
As much as I enjoyed living it from inside the kitchen, I would’ve loved to go through the genuine taste experience at the table… Unfortunately it was impossible to get a seat in the dining room then, which means I’ll have to go back to Laguiole to complete the story. Later that day, as luck would have it, I met a young Dutch Chef at the guided tours of one of the local cutlers where I bought a bread knife as a souvenir. Benny has a restaurant in Amsterdam called BAK (highly recommended) and invited me over to discover his pure creations.
This village, world-famous for far more then its knives, inspired me a lot and offered me one of the rare extraordinary sensations of my bike trip, it was truly worth the efforts…
Many thanks to the Bras family and the professional kitchen staff to welcome me so warmly, I'm impressed!