Dining Out 2 minutes 29 October 2019

Eating Off Duty with Gérald Passédat

We explore where and what celebrated chefs eat outside their kitchens.

Eating Off Duty

A true child of the “big blue,” Gérald Passédat grew up on a wave-washed promontory perched poetically above the Mediterranean, site of the family restaurant, Le Petit Nice.

Located just a few minutes up the coastal road from the colorful fishing port of Marseille, this dreamy white villa was purchased in 1917 by Passédat’s grandfather, Germain. Transformed into a restaurant, it quickly won a following among stars, painters, poets and gastronomes for the excellent cuisine, the beautiful site and the charm of Germain’s wife, Lucie, a famous opera singer.

Ninety-one years later, in 2008, Gérald, the third generation Passédat at the stoves of Le Petit Nice, won the ultimate three-star rating from the MICHELIN Guide. He is the first and only chef in this, France’s second largest metropole and its oldest port city, to attain this prestigious rating.

Passedat, a charismatic figure with features seemingly sculpted by the sea, remembers a decisive experience in his childhood when he first tasted a nage des langoustines at Alain Chapel’s three-MICHELIN-starred restaurant near Lyon. “I was 12 years old and decided there and then that I would have three stars,” he relates, having understood at that moment the emotion that fine cuisine and elegant plating can procure.

After culinary school, the young man set out to perfect his skills in the kitchens of some of France’s great restaurants, apprenticing with Michel Guérard in Eugenie-les-Bains, the Troisgros brothers in Roanne, and other notable chefs. He returned to Le Petit Nice to work in tandem with his father Jean-Paul, who had attained two MICHELIN stars in 1981. Gérald took over the kitchens when his father retired in 1985, continuing to forge his own style, while respecting the culinary identity and traditions created by his father and grandfather.

The anemone at Le Petit Nice. (Photo courtesy of Le Petit Nice/Facebook.)
The anemone at Le Petit Nice. (Photo courtesy of Le Petit Nice/Facebook.)

His philosophy is to let natural flavors and textures rule, for a clean, digestible and candid cuisine based on the wealth from the sea—which Passédat calls his “potager,” his kitchen garden—in combination with all the aromatic ingredients from the back country of Provence.

In addition to guiding Le Petit Nice into the 21st century with elegance and innovation, Gérald Passédat was responsible for creating the restaurants of the MuCem (Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean), inaugurated in Marseille in 2013. He is also the creative force behind the Brasserie of the Hotel Lutetia in Paris, which reopened in early 2019.

What was the last thing you ate?
A pistou soup, a dish that I love as it is ideal for my busy day!

It's your day off. What do you order for breakfast and where? (Outside of your own restaurants.)
Every morning I drink a black tea, a Lapsang Souchong if possible. I like to enjoy my tea with a multi-grain bread and honey from Agriates.

Controversial question: Do you believe in brunch?
No, I don't like brunch. I like the French rhythm of three meals a day.

What is your 2:00 a.m. food order or favorite spot?
I never eat before going to bed!

What is your local coffee shop and what do you order?
I do not go to a specific coffee shop however I do enjoy a true ristretto. This must be from my Italians origins!

Where do you go when you travel to your favorite city?
Paris, Rive Gauche. I love the dynamic artistic feel of the Saint-Germain neighborhood and its museums.

What is the "laziest" meal you put together for yourself this past week?
String bean salad.

What is your favorite snack food and why?
A pain-bagnat (the traditional sandwich of Nice), a classic from the South of France.

What do you eat when you want to treat yourself?
My new guilty pleasure is a plate of dried fruits: bananas, figs, raisins, apricots, etc.—a plate full of flavors!

Hero image by Richard Haughton.

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