Chef's notes: Paolo Sari's 100% organic Michelin star
The man behind the menu at Elsa, Monte-Carlo Beach, has earned a Michelin star while keeping his food totally organic
When I joined Societe des Bains de Mer in 2012 and became executive chef at Elsa, at the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel, I reinvented the culinary offer to bring in much more healthy and colourful Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant was certified as fully organic in 2013 and I became a Michelin chef in 2014.
It's really important that all the ingredients we use at Elsa are organic for a number of reasons. Firstly, to respect ourselves and our health, because if you eat organic foods, you don't consume any harmful chemicals. Secondly, to respect nature and the world – by producing organic food, we cause much less of an impact on the environment.
Besides being completely organic, we're very local, so all our produce is seasonal, and our vegetables are handpicked from within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant. They're picked early in the morning and they arrive here around 9 or 10am ready to be served at lunchtime. Because all the ingredients are so fresh, they have the best flavour and are very rich in vitamins and minerals. Also, being so close to our suppliers, we can visit our producers whenever we want, and we're investing in the local economy and generating employment.
Monaco is in a magnificent location between Italy and France, so the gastronomic influences of the principality come from two of the greatest gastronomic cultures in the world. There is a microclimate here that enables us to grow a range of different fruit and vegetables in the same area, for example, cabbages and lemons, broccoli and bananas. That's why it's possible for us to grow all our culinary ingredients within 50 miles. Even the wines are organic, coming from Bordeaux, Provence and many Italian regions, too.
Some chefs create the menu then look for the ingredients, often outside the Mediterranean, but I believe it should be the other way around. The last fisherman in Monaco is called Eric, and I've made a partnership with him, so I take everything he catches each day for my restaurants. We play with the daily catch, and while each day is different, we do a lot with red mullet, as you can find it almost all year round; we have swordfish when it's in season; and we sometimes have a small octopus. Whatever Eric catches, we use.
I focus on the beauty of the single ingredient, and I'm obsessed with sourcing the finest ingredients possible. Once I have the best ingredient, I showcase it as the main actor and I try to complement it with the culinary traditions of the region.
One of my signature dishes is Bio Sama – named "Bio" because it's organic, and "Sama", because in Japanese "Sama" is a form of respect you give to something important. It's like a flower composition of the daily produced vegetables and it's on the menu all year round, but it changes every day. At the bottom, there is a puree – it can be green pea, broccoli or aubergine depending on the season – and there's a drizzle of olive oil to finish. Essentially you're tasting pure nature, and I enjoy reconnecting my guests to nature.
The beauty of Monte-Carlo Beach is that it's very much integrated into the nature surrounding it, and the rooms and the restaurant are right by the water, so you wake up to the sound of the waves.
Souffle is our most popular dessert, made with almonds. We try not to use too much sugar in our desserts, so we often substitute sugar with honey or agave. We have an amazing vanilla ice cream made from honey, and we also use seasonal fruit in summer such as peach and apricot. Of course, we also have space for chocolate on the menu, and in autumn we recreate a cake from the south of Italy called Caprese cake, which is gluten free and cooked to order. It's served hot with pumpkin ice cream.
There are two big projects I'm very excited about in 2018. The first one is the renewal of La Vigie restaurant at Monte-Carlo Beach, which has been closed for lunch for the past three years. We're going to reinvent it as a great culinary destination and fun day-to-night lounge, with a focus on appetisers.
The other project is the reopening of Brasserie du Cafe de Paris as an international brassie with fresher, more Mediterranean cuisine. Cafe de Paris is the second most historic building in Monte-Carlo after the Casino, which is 155 years old, and it's celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
PAOLO SARI grew up cooking with his babysitter, and has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious kitchens around the world, including the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane and The Dorchester in London. He joined Societe des Bains de Mer in Monaco in 2012, and heads up all the restaurants at Monte-Carlo Beach - Elsa, Le Deck, La Vigie, the Pizzeria and in the 300 cabanas and solariums at the Club; montecarlosbm.com