My Dinner in Arles
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Planning my road trip so that I could visit Pont-du-Gard between Lyon and Nice, left me with one night to spend somewhere in between. Should it be Nimes, Avignon, Arles, or someplace else? Pondering several options, I decided upon Arles for multiple reasons; one of which was to experience the cuisine of French master chef Jean-Luc Rabanel, who is the culinary success story of the region.
Rabanel, recipient of numerous awards and accolades, was named "Chef of the Year 2008" by the Gault Millau, catapulting him from a relatively obscure forty-something chef into the spotlight. Gault Millau now rates his L’Atelier restaurant in Arles among the 16 most prestigious restaurants of France; it has also garnered him two Michelin stars.
L'Atelier was France's first certified-organic restaurant inducted into the Pantheon of Michelin stars. Rabanel elevated the importance of vegetables, which comprise 80% of his dishes. He made a point to honor plants, placing a “philosophy of plants at the center of emotion and taste,” which he terms Greenstronomy. He has also been noted as a true precursor or pioneer to our modern healthy eating or farm to table food sourcing. Vegetables, leaves, roots, plants, flowers and even wild herbs become the main players in his creations. Many products are sourced from Rabanel’s veggie patch, his own seven acre organic vegetable garden, where he grows one hundred types of heirloom fruits and vegetables in nearby Camargue. All this seriously piqued my interest in his cuisine.
For those of us on a budget, le Bistrot A Cote, within the same restaurant, allows one to more affordably taste the genius of this super chef.
The bistro has a pleasing casual urban vibe with stunning works of art which provide a fine backdrop to the artistry of the food.
Only a short walk from our hotel, we arrived at the restaurant at our appointed hour, entered the front door and initially found no one in the super chic Japanese style reception room. The display of five elements, (water, fire, earth, air and spirit), ensures that "guests come into harmony with their cuisine."
I was pleasantly surprised, (ok, a bit thrilled), when Jean-Luc Rabanel himself walked in to welcome us to his restaurant; I recognized him from photographs immediately. With charismatic charm, he apologized for his English (which we thought was very good), welcomed us, and showed us to the coat closet. He told us he would let us hang our coats, remarking that he wasn’t very good at that, but adding that he would cook for us. We stowed our coats and Jean-Luc showed us to our table. I was smitten, and the best, the food, was yet to come.
His personal aim is to “develop his compositions so that each bite is a real shock of flavors”; this he truly delivers.
Visiting his restaurant is an artistic, as well as a culinary experience. Might I add, his wine pairings of regional French wines are divine.
All in all, this was a fun and delicious evening; I was delighted with my choice of Arles as the city in which to spend the night. Viva la Jean-Luc Rabanel.