Heading up the Monte-Carlo Beach restaurants, chef Paolo Sari has just one thing in mind: healthy, balanced cooking with natural, seasonal ingredients. An interview with a passionate, exacting chef.
Your restaurant Elsa* has been awarded a Michelin star: are you proud?
Paolo Sari: I was the first chef in the world to be certified as organic and receive a Michelin star. But that recognition is not what’s important: what matters is the need to eat as healthily as possible.
Elsa* offers a menu made up of exclusively organic products; was that a foregone conclusion for you?
P.S.: My views on this have developed over the years. My journey started 20 years ago when I travelled the world. When I was working in Asia I spent three months living in a monastery, studying and learning about the monks’ food, their self-sufficiency, and their independence. Since I arrived in Monaco, I’ve lived each day by the motto “health body, health mind”. That starts with the meticulous selection of foods and seasoning from neighbouring producers in Grasse, Menton and Sanremo.
How do you surprise the customers who come to dine at Elsa, and make them fall in love with it here?
P.S.: My customers expect excellence. My job is to enhance what nature provides us with throughout the different seasons. I add my own personal touch, which is what makes the difference. We don’t have a set menu; it varies depending on what’s available. Returning customers are constantly surprised, week after week. They act as ambassadors for Elsa!
What is your philosophy in the kitchen?
P.S.: I combine what is good and what is beautiful with great sensitivity. And extremely high standards, of course. I am a firm believer in local, healthy, organic, seasonal and freshly-harvested ingredients. All I do is bring out their natural flavour by touching, cutting and cooking them as little as I possibly can.
Did you have a culinary mentor who inspired you to do things this way?
P.S.: Top chefs such as Anton Mosimann, the Roux brothers and Pierre Koffmann instilled really solid basics in me. Then I travelled a lot to learn about other techniques and other ingredients - I went all over the world.
What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
P.S.: I enjoy working with mini vegetables and small root varieties: they are fragile and delicate, but absolutely sublime. I also love freshly-caught seafood, either fried straight away or better yet, eaten raw.
Paolo Sari’s “Proust’s Madeleine”
“The dish from my childhood that holds a special place in my heart is gnocchi, which we used to eat on special occasions and sometimes on Sundays. By the time I was four, I was already helping my nanny make them. Maybe she’s who I got my passion for food from.”