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Oustau de Baumanière, Les Baux de Provence, France.

Superb cuisine once again!

Peter and Linda D'Aprix 2002

We are delighted to report that a meal at (what has to be a restaurant that occupies a special place in the annals of French culinary history) is once again almost back where it belongs. Oustau de Baumanière was one of the first restaurants, if not the first, outside of Paris to gain the coveted three Michelin stars and kept them for the better part of three decades until 1990.

The cuisine is excellent, modern and refined without loosing track of the fact that in the end, what is on the plate is food, however artistic it may be made to look before consumption. We could just wish there was a tad more of it to quench hunger pangs. We could also wish that the desserts could live up to the preceeding meal in inspiration and variety, even though we cannot say quality is lacking.

A more interesting environment in which to consume these delicacies cannot be imagined. The ancient vaulted dining room, one vaulted space leading to the next, goes back many centuries. The tree shaded terrace that overlooks the pool is a summer dream. Our only complaint is that inside cigarette smoke has no way of exiting the dining room and if you are sensitive to burning tobacco, this is not the place for you. We grabbed a table by the open French doors and were lucky not to be next to the chain smokers from Germany. Why should a work of art from these kitchens be ruined by such an assault on the taste buds? The waiter was apologetic but could do nothing to help us. Thank God for those open French doors!

Foie Gras de Canard

Foie Gras de Canard Poele vin cuit de Provence reduit quelques jeunes pousses.

Lobster with spices

The lovely vaulted series of dining areas, one flowing into another.

Jean-André Charial

Owner and Chef de Cuisine, Jean-André Charial

Soup of petits pois

Soup of Petits Pois and Fava Beans.

Click on Photos where the mouse turns into a hand for bigger versions.

© 2002 photos Peter D'Aprix

We enjoyed a leisurely meal. The two soups of the day were superb. One a Petits Pois and Fava Bean (above) was the essence of both legumes with toast rounds spread with herbed local goat cheese The Boullion de Mer with small veggies in a spoon on the side was just as good with an intense taste of the sea that is hard to capture in words. Just go and try it for yourself.

We both enjoyed the tender roast breast of duck with a lavender honey sauce that was sitting on a confit of tart lemon and olives. A dollop of a purée of various citrus and olives sat on one side and an assortment of fresh peas, carrots and green onions was on the other.

The dessert cart would not delight a dessert-a-holic's wildest dreams. I am sure the cakes and tarts were good but they looked as though they were brought up from a local patisserie. The ice cream looked good and was. The fresh fruit was fine but just spooned on the plate leaving us with a bit of a let down after a meal that until then had been superb. The tisane of fresh thyme and rosemary was good but the decaf espress left something to be desired. The service was professional and friendly. The cooking true to French tastes, not changed for American tastes unless requested to do so.

After our less than happy experience in the 1980's, it was gratifying to not endure the subtle contempt of waiters who clearly considered us second class eaters once our American nationality was discovered and not to have it assumed that we wanted over cooked meat and vegetables. This was just a few years before the 3rd Michelin star was removed, so perhaps we were not alone.

tree shaded flagstone terrace

Dining 'al fresco" on the tree shaded flagstone terrace.

3 "amuse bouche"

3 "amuse bouche" - a crumble of ratatouille as a purée; an chicken aspic with vegetables; a cream of mushrooms with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Homard Bleu saute a cru aux Epices.

Homard Bleu saute a cru aux Epices.

Senior kitchen staff

Senior kitchen staff with Chef de Cuisine, Jean-André Charial on the right.

An abbreviated history of Oustau de Baumanière. Just after World War Two, 1946 to be exact, Chef and Hotelier Raymond Thuilier stumbled upon a deserted valley in Provence in the valley of the Rhone. Hidden high in the first line of hills that face south to the coast looking over the flat plains of the Carmargue with its olive groves, vineyards and famous white horses, this valley and its village had been abandoned for a long time. The fort and, at its' foot, the stone village that commanded the heights are still largely in ruins although the lower village has been restored. It is a hauntingly beautiful spot for those with a romantic turn of character.

M. Thuilier recognized before anyone else that the road building campaign started immediately after the war was supporting the rapid movement of automobiles throughout France. Parisians were on the move and were bemoaning the lack of upscale places to stay and eat in the country. A ruined manor house was for sale in the protected valley behind the ruined Chateau. Built in 1643, it was the perfect place to house disgruntled Parisians not just for a night on the road but for an entire holiday. He promptly bought the property, restored and enlarged it, created deluxe rooms and suites and established a restaurant that quickly became famous world wide. The first to earn 3 Michelin stars outside of Paris.

While someone else may well have started the same ball rolling, we who love to travel the French country side staying in deluxe hotels and eating fine cuisine, owe our pleasure directly to M. Thuilier who not only started his own establishment, but encouraged others to do the same.

Dining room

Dining room looking out onto the dining terrace.

Pre-dinner drinks

Pre-dinner drinks on the terrace as the menu is being perused.

Three olive oils

Three olive oils from Huile Val Doré, a producer that Chef Charial uses in the valley below les Baux.

Swimming Pool and Residence

Roast breast of duck with honey sauce, olives and lemon peas, carrots and green onions.

Today his grandson Jean-André Charial has not only kept up the tradition established by his famous grand father but has advanced it much further with many innovations of his own. A quiet, laid back man, he is really most comfortable cooking. He paid his culinary dues working in the kitchens of such greats as the Trois Gros brothers in Lyon, Bocuse just down the road from the brothers, Chapel a little north and out in the country and Haeberlin. But as the owner of this hotel that has spawned an annex on the other side of the village called Le Manoir and a more affordable 3 star hotel and restaurant La Cabro d'Or on the other side of that he has his hands full of administration matters.

So he contents himself with setting the course, experimenting with new recipes, cooking on line for as long as he can before being called away on an emergency of one kind or another. Hotel Oustau de Baumanière has become such an institution that M. Charial, as his grand father before him, is away a lot participating in such organizations as the Relais et Chateaux chain which his grand father helped to found. So he has had to form a tightly knit and extremely capable team to run his kitchens that he can depend upon in his absence.

One of his greatest joys is welcoming serious amateur chefs who have the passion into his kitchens to experience what a top professional kitchen is like. He recently extended this open arm welcome by participating in the new Relais et Chateaux "one on one" cooking school L’Ecole Des Chefs Relais Gourmands. (See our story click here).

Like all top chefs we have interviewed, the best ingredients are mandatory. He took us down the hill to several olive oil producers in the valley. He produced his own wine in a partnership that was terminated this year, but he has plans for another that will give him full control. We enjoyed a bottle of his Chateau Romanin which was delicious and we look forward to the results of his own winery.

Oustau de Baumanière
13520 Les Baux de Provence
tel: 33-(0)4..
fax: 33-(0)4..
eMai: contact@oustaudebaumaniere.com
eMail: oustau@relaischateaux.fr
WebSite Link

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No copying, reuse or partial reproduction permitted without written permission by the authors, Peter and Linda D'Aprix.

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