Mesmerising Monaco with Caribbean fusion cuisine
I arrived from Nice, in France, to Monaco by train, a mere US$5 ride. I resisted Uber as I wanted to enjoy the panorama of the creamy Mediterranean cliffs, framed by the massive rectangular train windows. Some of my fellow diners at the trendy and...
I arrived from Nice, in France, to Monaco by train, a mere US$5 ride. I resisted Uber as I wanted to enjoy the panorama of the creamy Mediterranean cliffs, framed by the massive rectangular train windows.
Some of my fellow diners at the trendy and popular Blue Bay Restaurant, located at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, had arrived by yacht and were shuttled over to the restaurant by Rolls Royce. In a town where one in three residents are millionaires, expectations for everything are high, including food. My expectations were high too. A black Jamaican man was expected for dinner. And as I entered the opulent and airy eatery, I could feel the eyes in the room sweeping across the audacity of my red, gold and green reggae colours. The welcomes were extraordinarily warm. After being seated at a table with a view of the azure waters of the bay, a team of three gentlemen introduced themselves as my servers for the evening and double-checked that I was comfortable. It didn’t need rocket science genius to tell that an unforgettable culinary experience was about to unfold.
My focus last Wednesday evening was on the restaurant’s Caribbean cuisine. In food circles in France and in the Principality of Monaco, the raves about the Blue Bay and its Caribbean chef from the island of Martinique, Marcel Ravin, are unending. Marcel is regularly celebrated in the Nice Matin, the leading local newspaper. Black chefs are hot property across France right now too. Another acclaimed black chef, Francis Oge, now cooks for the president of France at the Élysée Palace in Paris, and several black culinary rising stars are doing food shows on French television.
But back to our Caribbean prodigy Marcel. He was raised by his grandmother of humble means in the countryside of Martinique. Grandma had a garden where she grew many of the products she used in her cooking, and every day after school Marcel would race home to a mouth-watering meal. And young Marcel would sometimes accompany his grandfather to go find wood for their coal stove. So the lad developed an early appreciation for the processes involved in delivering a delicious meal. When the hotel was created over a decade ago, the sprawling open kitchen was intended for the world’s greatest chef, Alain Ducasse. But circumstances changed and when Ducasse was unable to take up the offer, Ravin was flown into Monaco by helicopter to begin the culinary journey of his dreams. During his reign at the Blue Bay, Marcel has so far earned two Michelin stars, a rare and coveted accolade for his superlative gastronomic gifts, and the more recent was only a few weeks ago.
In the spirit of celebrating the Caribbean, I declined the impressive list of wines and opted instead for an aged rum cocktail. For dinner, I had a choice between two of Marcel’s outrageously meticulous signature creations: an eight-course or a 12-course food fantasy. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I went for the latter. The small but drop-dead-gorgeous platters, each one impeccably perfected by Marcel himself in the open kitchen, was food art in motion, down to the minutest micro green detail. The kaleidoscope of natural colours on the curated dishes was jaw-dropping, with some of the ingredients grown in Marcel’s own backyard garden in Monaco. The dishes are designed to make the eyes pop and the taste buds quiver with pleasure, and the guests are waited upon like kings and queens in a palace. Elements of the Caribbean are themed in the visuals of many of the dishes – sea shells, urchins, cacti, canoes and coral reefs. The ingredients too reflect the sensibilities of the Caribbean with several dishes incorporating cassava, dashine, moringa, sorrel and tamarind.
Space would never allow a detailed description of the 12 courses. But among my favourites were the crunchy Tapioca with mullet, mango, sweet potato and cheese with Mediterranean squid, citrus and black garlic with squid ink, collectively a sight to behold. Another favourite was white asparagus cooked vertically over Indian wood with fish eggs and caviar and embellished with a creamy sauce. The veal slow-cooked for four hours with foie gras ravioli and a tamarind sauce was a big winner too, as was the soup made from seafood broth, coconut water, rhubarb, dashine and vegetable herb oil.
And the oil industry Texans next to my table were clearly blown away by the moringa candied sweet breads with white butter, cocoa and zucchini. Unfortunately, one was full by the time the servers were ready to bring out desserts with creations made from assorted chocolates, ice cream, strawberry, hibiscus and honey from the restaurant’s own bee hive. The dining experience was magical. It lasted for well over four hours and after chatting with chef Marcel for 20 minutes, hearing about his upcoming Caribbean restaurant projects, I suddenly realised I had already missed the last train back to Nice over an hour ago. He gifted me with a copy of his cookbook, Best of Marcel Ravin, and I in turn promised to send him jerk products from Jamaica for his own experimentation. He told me he particularly loves the flavour of the Jamaican Scotch bonnet pepper but pointed out that in his cooking, he uses the leaves and never the berries which are too hot for his international clients.
“Monaco has been very good to me and I’m very happy here,” Ravin stated. “I’ve been here for many years executing my vision of the fusion between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean cuisines and it brings me great joy to excite the palate of my diners from all over the world,” he told The Gleaner in an after-dinner chat. Like everyone else in Monaco, his thoughts for the next few days and weeks will be focused on the huge flood of visitors who have already started arriving for the annual Grand Prix car racing sport that starts officially on May 26. At a nightclub located next to the restaurant, the Ferrari posse were already rehearsing their dance moves and eager to show off their fast cars.
And what’s in store for Marcel for the future?
“Next year I’d like to create a whole new, even more lavish restaurant here that will be more aligned with my new vision of merging the Caribbean and the Mediterranean seas through haute cuisine,” Ravin revealed.