VEZELAY, France (Reuters Life!) - Gregory Vallet is a young chef running the restaurant of Hotel de La Poste et du Lion d'Or in Vezelay; a tourist attraction in the Burgundy area known for its basilica at the top of the hill that once attracted crusading kings and hordes of religious pilgrims.
Born in nearby Nevers, the former professional cyclist followed a formal kitchen training before setting out with his wife Megali to work in a string of restaurants for top chefs such as Alain Ducasse.
In 2005 they returned to Burgundy to start the restaurant of this historic hotel, rejuvenated by new owner Pascal Leclerc whose HEDS firm also runs two hotels in Auxerre.
They have ambitious plans and both the hotel and the restaurant will be refurbished during the coming winter with fewer rooms - allowing Vallet to run a larger kitchen, for serving both a gastronomic restaurant, a bistro and a room for groups under his own chosen name. (menus 22-58 euros, standard 2 person room 76-111 euros)
Q: You are going to separate the restaurant from the hotel, why?
A: A separation means both can have their own identity and hotel guests won't feel forced to eat all their meals in the restaurant while non-guests will open the doors of the restaurant sooner.
Q: What made you choose your profession?
A: It was quite natural. I have always been interested in cooking and I remember watching my mother cook with her chipped steel casserole dish while I was holding on to her legs under her skirt. Still it is not a family tradition, my father is in the metal industry and my mother worked in a travel agency.
Q: How would you define your style?
A: I use fresh local produce and try to recompose traditional recipes while also trying out new combinations. But we remain modest so that the client has a nice "price quality experience" and feels appreciated with our attention to detail, for us every dish counts and has to be the best.
Q: You worked with Ducasse, has that had an influence?
A: Of course, he has a modern style of cooking with sauces made from reductions rather than the fatty traditional sauces, using stocks in cooking to impart an aroma and cooking vegetables lightly to keep them fresh and crisp.
Q: What do you mean by "recomposed classics?"
A: Here in Burgundy you have snails and most restaurants serve snails with garlic butter. I have a recipe where they are cooked with some lard and mushrooms and served in a little bowl with puffed pastry on top - a snail balloon.
Q: Do you aim to obtain a Michelin star?
A: Yes, but it has to come naturally and I do not think we are ready yet.
Q: You served a goat cheese panna cotta topped with vegetables, herbs, salmon dices and peanuts. Why peanuts?
A: The peanut contrasts nicely with the fatty salmon and brings a crunchy experience to the otherwise smooth panna cotta.
Recipe - Filled turkey fillet rolls For two persons
Two turkey scallops
200 grams of Tome de Moine cheese
2 slices of Morvan ham
4 leaves of basil
Pound the meat flat and add some pepper (the ham and cheese is already salty). Put a strip of cheese, ham and basil in the middle and roll like a sausage in plastic foil making sure the outside is formed of meat without an opening through which the filling can escape. Tie both ends and trim the plastic. Cook the rolls for 15 minutes in water, take out the rolls, squeeze out excess water and let cool and set, reserve. Shortly before serving make a sauce of reduced wine and shallots in a sauce pan and cook until syrupy, strain. Brown the turkey rolls in butter and when nicely colored, cut in two at an angle and present on plates with a trace of sauce around the meat.
Editing by Paul Casciato