MARCEL RAVIN, the chef who privilegies the melting pot

Since 2005, this native of Martinique is Top Chef of the kitchens of the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, drawing on his past from his favorite lady – his grandmother. He is soft-spoken (more non-spoken) as he prefers to let his cooking do the talking; however when he does speak, you listen! Breaking all the silence that your pallet and your stomach tries to hide…furtive glances from each diner nervously try not to scream out in ecstasy. The greatest chefs in France also smack their lips and smoother their acolyte with praises. Chef Ravin tells us what it means to dream.

 

Force One Magazine geared itself to meet the Chef. Thoughts about his stature, or if he could be candid, were soon dispelled as the culinary artist opened up his emotions. When it comes to food, Marcel Ravin is passionate, and he is simply compelling.

F.1.M. : It is a fact that the Caribbean represents the greatest cultural melting pot in history. You now operate in an establishment that is completely different as concerns other restaurants. I refer to the local clientele, but also the touristic domain.

M.R. : It is the product that defines my cooking; adhering to the seasons and using small producers. My taste buds have been nurtured by Caribbean flavors, a culinary melting pot stewed in the cultures of the world. From the time of slavery, plus cheap labor provided by immigrant Indians, immigrants from China, Lebanon, Europeans seeking a new life… I became an apprentice of all these differences to create my own cuisine. Often you might taste Japanese flavors in a dish, but I have never worked in Japan!

It includes also my fellow colleagues. I am the man from nowhere. When I arrived, many eyebrows were raised. But it was written in the stars; I am not being pretentious…it was destiny! The first time I landed in Monaco was in 1990, and like everybody else, I stood in front of the Louis XV restaurant at the Hotel de Paris, and I promised myself to return. In my book (Between two rocks) I described why I came, my philosophy, etc. The cuisine at the Monte-Carlo Bay is based on the product; but Alain Ducasse advised me that one’s cuisine should be based on the chef and his vision. My cuisine is therefore based on the products of the Mediterranean, mixed with the flavors of my homeland. I like to go beyond the box: there is a purpose for everything on the plate; what you see, you can eat, nothing is by chance. There is a trend for putting flowers on the plate. If you see a flower on my plate, believe me, it has a taste and is not there only for decoration!

F.1.M. : In terms of experimenting, Monaco must present an advantage. The clients are well travelled and opened to new creativity…

M.R. : Yes, but we are still a hotel. What is missing is the fact that we are not listed as a restaurant. We are a bit special as regards the city where the best eating establishments are well known, whose reputations are solid, but also … a place to be seen… (smile).

Furthermore, new restaurants have popped up like mushrooms and, in my opinion, this is not always positive. Certain spots have changed signs 2 or 3 times. It’s hard to find a meaning. Does this add to the market value of the city? I don’t think that there has been enough emphasis placed on the small bistros that represented a real gastronomy in the Principality.

F.1.M. :It’s the same in France where many bistros have practically been put out of business. Can this tendency be reversed?

M.R. : We’re surfing on a small wave…one spot works well, then everyone copies. Let’s not forget the role played by the media; we copy rather than re-invent.

F.1.M. : Is it really a media problem? Or perhaps it is cultural? Maybe the small restaurateur does not realize the importance or pride in running a bistro. Many have their eyes on obtaining a star…but a fine dining restaurant is managed differently from a bistro. And the latter can also please discriminating clients.

M.R. : I am sure that the client who comes here, even though extensively travelled across the planet, would be happy to experience a real bistro…but it has to be top notch!

F.1.M. : What I find disappointing is that you can be deceived easily. Choosing a good tomato should be easy and it seems that this culture and training have been thrown out of the window.

M.R. : Responsibility is the key, and we must be held responsible in the future. We are the guarantors of a certain culture and have to transmit what we have learned. Take New Year’s Eve; it’s nice to offer a lobster, asparagus, or turbot; but it seems strange to me because they are not in season! You will not find strawberries on my menu in January! And if a client asks for it, we tell him it’s not possible. Of course if he insists, we let him know that the only place we can buy strawberries for him will be at the supermarket, and this is not the best solution.

 

F.1.M. : You have been here for nine years and you have your own philosophy. It seems that it’s paying off. Nine years is a long time to be in one establishment…

M.R. : I believe in what I do. The men and women that surround me are all team workers and we have a profound respect for this. I re-invent all the time, without succumbing to trends. It took me years to get to this point and it is not because a star has been awarded or not that you stop creating and cooking. We work in an establishment that permits us to improve, following our goals and objectives.

F.1.M. : Your strong personality should lead you to have your own label Marcel Ravin. Wouldn’t you think that attracting more media spotlight, you could help to diffuse your philosophy?

M.R. : You know, the Monte-Carlo Bay is very associated with Marcel Ravin. I have asked myself several times if I could duplicate the way things are done here. Here, we take things slowly. People come here because of our audacious creativity and the respect for the client. I am at home here; sometimes this can brush people the wrong way, but never have we lowered the quality nor our commitment. Putting my name on a sign has already been considered before. At first I thought this was a bit narcissist…Sometimes it can pay off…but I am not sure this is something I truly desire.

A man truly in love with his work…The vibrations of this interview made me feel that I had tasted a fine meal…Chef Marcel Ravin made me feel so much at ease, and enjoyed expounding about educating children on cooking. He took the time to view the photo (portable phone) of my daughter kneading pizza dough. I still savor his comment: “That’s good work!”

About the author: Luca Marotta

Luca Marotta