Before I leave on vacation this afternoon I need to "get rid of" last week's experience in Cancale. For my readers who are not as much into cooking as I am, let me try to compare it : Imagine you are a confirmed Catholic, go to Rome, attend the mass, and then the pope himself shows you the Vatican, or you love the Rolling Stones, attend their concert and Mick and Keith meet you behind the scene to show you some tunes on the guitar. Get the idea ?
Olivier Roellinger has a reputation of being a unique chef, and I was intrigued by all I had heard, seen and read about him and his cuisine. His story is amazing. A son of a doctors' family in Cancale, he wanted to become an engineer and studied mathematics and chemistry. This path was stopped by a tragic event when he was in his early twenties and agressed in the streets of St. Malo at night, with severe consequences. A couple of days of coma, then 2 years in a wheelchair, not knowing whether he could ever walk again. During the time in hospital and then at his home in Cancale he decided to turn his home into a B&B with table d'hote and started a small kitchen without any gastronomic aspirations at that time. He only did three small internships, not longer than 6 months with other chefs. That was about 25 years ago...
So obviously this story and the descriptions of his cuisine have made me want to go there since a while, and when I got reservations I thought why not try your chance and I wrote him a letter, telling him the story of my life and asking whether I could meet him during my stay in Cancale.
I had reservations for last Friday evening, and in the morning I already went to the restaurant in order to take some pictures of the house. Just when I entered the garden, Monsieur Rollinger came out of the kitchen by accident to get some spices from his epicerie next door, said Bonjour, and asked whether he should open the house, so that I could take pictures from the other side as well. I nodded, and after overcoming my speechlessness I replied "in fact I will come to dine tonight and I wrote you a letter last week, I don't know whether you received it". Then he said : "Oh you must be Ulla. I didn't know it was you. You will come into the kitchen tonight during service.!" I was overwhelmed and the prospect of the evening events made me jump up and down all day.
The food was exceptional of course, not at all what I expected though. I was ready for complicated 3-star cuisine, and some kind of fusion in the lines of Ze Kitchen Galerie as Roellinger's kitchen is characterized by using seafood and spices. But it was not at all that. Products perfectly cooked, unusual but delicate seasoning, beautiful plates, and nothing complicated. The pure product.
I was already in heaven after all the amuse-bouches and the first starters, when the waiter asked me to follow him into the kitchen. There Monsieur Roellinger showed me everything, explained the organization, and the history of the house. What surprised me most, was the total silence and the smoothless flow among the brigade of fourteen. Mentioning my observation to him, he explained that he hates noise and yelling in the kitchen, and only chefs with a lack of authority think they can get it by raising their voices. This mad me smile and think about all the yelling chefs I have met already. What a wise man ! ;) I also mentioned his unusually short experience with other chefs, and he said "mais je suis toujours apprenti !" (I am still apprentice).
Then I asked whether I can stay to observe, and I stayed about 30 minutes, almost forgetting my meal, I was so fascinated. Monsieur Roellinger wished me good luck and bon courage for my project and was satisfied that he had been able to show me a "different" kitchen, being very well aware about how unique his approach is.
What a wonderful and motivating experience !
I leave you with those wonderful impressions from Olivier Roellinger's table for a couple of days, because now I am off to my home country, touring Germany from North to South for two weeks...