Elsa, the 100% organic and wild-caught fish restaurant at the Monte-Carlo Beach, has welcomed a new chef to its ranks: Mélanie Serre. Having already opened her own restaurant in Paris, Melanie Serre considers this new adventure a more personal challenge.
We interviewed this passionate professional, who is excited about showcasing local gastronomy and products, and creating a pleasurable experience for her guests.
You became a chef at 36, was it a dream come true?
Mélanie Serre : Yes, although my dream as a young girl - to become a veterinarian - originally led me to take a scientific baccalaureate. Later, I decided to change paths. At weekends, I would immerse myself in the world of catering: my uncle, who was a caterer, hired me to wait tables at events, weddings in particular. I liked the atmosphere, the happy people... So, I decided to study for a degree in management, specialising in the hotel and catering industry. Whilst at the Vatel hotel management school in Lyon, I did an internship with the caterer Potel et Chabot. I wanted to learn about the world of professional kitchens, the culinary terms, how they were organised, without necessarily learning how to cook. But then in the end...
Who has influenced your career?
Mélanie Serre : That first chef at Potel et Chabot made me want to learn the trade. Then came Joël Robuchon, who gave me the reins at the Atelier Étoile in Paris, and Christophe Cussac, who trained me for four years in Monaco. Next it was Olivier Bardoux in Megève, who showed me the most sophisticated cooking techniques. They were all kind to me, they all gave me my love of the job.
How do you feel about taking the helm at Elsa, a 100% organic and wild-caught fish restaurant?
Mélanie Serre : It's a big challenge for me, the idea of organic appeals to me and has really made me think. In Paris, it is much more difficult to cook organically, so this new role is a real opportunity for me. And above all, it will give me the chance to meet people: I really want to learn about the producers’ approach, what made them go organic, how it works.
Are you looking forward to meeting these producers?
Mélanie Serre : I need to meet them. I work based on human relationships, based on feeling. A good conversation with a producer tells you everything. How they work, their way of seeing things, the fact that they are in love with their land or their animals, it is crucial. And the fact that they have this authenticity is still the best way for us to reproduce it in the kitchen and for our customers.
Something special about the Monte-Carlo Beach is that it has an organic vegetable garden. How will it inspire you?
Mélanie Serre : By making it my own, tasting the excellent products raw, walking around it to get ideas. It’s also a way of getting to know the seasons better!
How would you define your style?
Mélanie Serre : A mixture of delicious food and elegance. Everything is done to a very high standard, in the kitchen and on the plate, with a lot of technique and a lot of generosity. I season a lot, so that the dishes have character, and so that each ingredient has a distinct taste. That's why I like working with just one or two ingredients and creating different variations.
Is Mediterranean cuisine a favourite for you?
Mélanie Serre : Having spent four years cooking in Monaco, I have fond memories of Mediterranean dishes. I love the products, which are rich, packed with sunshine and make you think of holidays. Pissaladière, octopus, grilled vegetables: these dishes make you feel as though you are on your travels. And then, southern cuisine has the advantage that you get everything before everyone else. Everyone is eager for the arrival of peas, truffles, asparagus or scallops. Here, thanks to the climate, we feel lucky.
What will the Elsa menu look like?
Mélanie Serre : Initially, the focus will be on seafood. The world of soups and sauces inspires me, well reduced, fish-based. As well as vegetables of course, every vegetable can be prepared in different ways, raw or cooked, smoked or grilled. I have just tested a recipe based exclusively on carrots, for a starter. Savoury, sweet, cooked, raw, confit, using the tops, the skin. Mixing fish and vegetables will also be part of my work. The aim is to please our guests, not forgetting that they come first and foremost to enjoy themselves by the sea, and that at Elsa they will discover the history and origin of the products.
A food memory?
M.S. : The first gourmet restaurant I ever treated myself to: I was 20 years old, and I went to the Relais Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu with my boyfriend at the time, for our birthdays. We had fun and I remember it like it was yesterday. A dream.
Which do you think is the most important sense?
M.S. : Taste. It has to be seasoned, hot and good. Nowadays, we can dine in restaurants where we eat in the dark, others where we eat with our fingers, where our ears are treated to music or absolute silence... But we cannot change our sense of taste, whatever the experience of the other senses. Taste, heat, the product, perfect cooking: these are the most important things. Who hasn't eaten at a table that doesn't look like much but serves divine cuisine that makes you want to come back?
What’s your favourite place in Monaco?
M.S. : It’s not quite in Monaco, but I think it's the Tête de Chien rock in La Turbie. When you climb it, you find yourself on top of a cliff with an incredible view of the whole Principality.
Your star establishment?
M.S. : Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris where I was lucky enough to dine. I loved it. Le Casino de Monte-Carlo, too. But I left in 2015, so I'll be able to discover all the new places in the city that have opened since then!