Chef Mauro Colagreco: ‘Michelin forces you to up your game’
Chef Mauro Colagreco has had a whirlwind few months.
In September last year his restaurant Mirazur in the South of France was named the World’s best restaurant, according to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and in December received his third Michelin star.
Meanwhile, in Dubai, he took control of two new restaurants at The One & Only Royal Mirage - including Celebrities by Mauro Colagreco.
The restaurant now serves up his impressive, fine-dining inspired food – with a nod to sustainability and fresh ingredients.
On a recent trip to the UAE, we sat down with Colagreco to discuss everything from Michelin stars and the difference between French and Argentinian cooking.
You moved to France because you wanted to get into fine dining. Was it an easy transition coming from Argentina?
When I started to cook, I didn’t really have any idea what fine dining was. Yes, we had fine dining restaurants in Argentina, but they were still very casual. I really started to study the cuisine when I was 20 in culinary school, and immediately realized that if I wanted to learn fast, I had to head to the base of Western Cuisine. I needed to go to France.
To raise your game?
Yes. It probably would have been easier for me to move to Spain because I speak the same language.
I thought I would only be in France for a couple of years, four years maximum. I arrived in 2000, and I’m still there today.
When you got up on stage at the World’s Best Restaurant Awards, you carried four flags with you representing four nationalities. Why?
Because I wanted to represent myself and my team, and because it was impossible to just pick one.
Of course, I had the Argentinian flag, as well as the French flag – that is where the restaurant is located. But then a big part of my team is Italian, so I needed to have that one. And I really love my wife, and she is Brazilian.
At Mirazur, our approach to cuisine is not about nationalities. We don’t believe in borders, we believe in global thinking.
How many nationalities work at Mirazur?
Between ten and twelve currently. At our largest, we had 14 different nationalities.
You started Mirazur with just five people; how different is the restaurant today to the one you opened back in 2009?
I believe restaurants are like babies; they develop like a person. Over time, the restaurant grows along with the chef in the kitchen, and the front of house staff.
When we started at Mirazur, we had no money at all. We had no partners. We had three people in the kitchen and two in the dining room. We started the restaurant for pleasure, and to learn ways to make different types of dishes.
Every year we increased the quality and the team along with it. We did that over a long period of time, five or six years, which means we could start creating more detailed dishes.
In the beginning, we couldn’t focus too much on refinement, but that has come with time.
It is still the same restaurant, though?
Oh yes. We did not change the philosophy of the restaurant, that has remained the same. Maybe what has changed is how we express that philosophy.
You work with your wife, who looks after the front of house at Mirazur. What’s that like?
It’s hard, but it is great. You can count on your family, especially when it comes to building something for the future. With family, you share a philosophy and a set of goals. That is extremely important to us.
So she is your eyes in the dining room.
Yes, she tells me the truth, no matter what.
It is hard working with your family because the restaurant is part of our home – we bring our work with us into our home. We are constantly mixing work with our private lives, but we manage it.
You worked with celebrated French chef Bernard Loiseau, who committed suicide in 2003. It is thought that he took his own life due to the pressure of having to maintain his restaurant’s three Michelin Stars. Do you believe that ultimately, the Michelin Guide is a force for good or bad?
I think it is a very good thing. I think the level of gastronomy in Europe is so high, and a guide like Michelin is what pushes restaurants to constantly innovate. It forces you to up your game.
One of the ways I deal with the pressure is by working for the guests and myself. I don’t cook food to win accolades in a guide, and I do so for the sense of achievement.
The moment you cook for awards, and then you lose an award - that can be painful.
When I started cooking in Argentina, there was no Michelin Guide or 50 Best Restaurants list there. I started cooking because I loved it and I wanted to give pleasure.
But you find them still relevant?
Yes. The guides are a great source of inspiration to push up the quality of restaurants everywhere.
We are sat inside your new restaurant here in Dubai, Celebrities by Mauro Colagreco. How did this come about?
My friend Yannick Alleno put me in touch with the One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai, because he was familiar with the restaurant and thought I would be a good fit. The are a really good partner, actually. The brand believes in quality and knowns the market exceptionally well. And it is a fantastic restaurant.
Your name is on the restaurant plaque now, but you obviously can’t be in the kitchen all the time – you live in France? How do you keep standards up when you aren’t on the pass?
That is a big challenge for us, sure. But we have been cautious about keeping standards high. We have been planning this restaurant and training the staff for the past seven months, including flying some of the team to Mirazur to understand our philosophy.
I also have a team that travels a lot, who visits all our restaurants twice a month around the World.
How does Celebrities compare to Mirazur?
It is important to understand that Mirazur is Mirazur. It is not celebrities.
I think it is important for me to bring the Mauro Colagreco philosophy of the restaurant to Dubai, but not to copy it.
Mirazur is not just me, and it’s also my team. And we have our own gardens and produce our own food. So it would be impossible to reproduce the restaurant here – we could try and copy it, but it would be a bad copy.
So I believe that Celebrities is something new. And it will continue to grow as the team do.