Sitting on his punt, the immense bamboo pole horizontal, like a tightrope walker over the Brière, Eric Guérin is taking the measure of his morning escapade. Making the most of this natural tranquillity, the chef of La Mare aux Oiseaux talks little. He observes the water level, watches the attitude of the ducks. Then, in a calm voice, "Look, a coypu, just there." You barely have time to turn your head and the rodent is already slipping away through the high grass. "The Brière resources me fully. I like travelling in Africa, Asia, Europe...but I also feel a visceral need to be in Brière…OK, let's move on." A few strokes of the bamboo pole later, Eric Guérin gets out onto a small piece of loose earth, disturbing a duck family who had found refuge there as he goes. "I come to look for pennyroyal here." On the ground, there are a few greyed coypu heads. In the distance, swans are frolicking.
To get back to the "port" of La Mare aux Oiseaux, his restaurant set in the heart of the Brière regional nature reserve not far from Saint-Nazaire, the chef uses the natural channels of the Brière. In this way he passes along the bottom of one of his plots of land on which he has placed some thatched suites and a spa. La Mare aux Oiseaux is still about ten strokes of bamboo pole away. We arrive therefore at the bottom of his lush garden, where the guests are still sleeping in their rooms on stilts. These three rooms represent the very spirit of the Relais du Silence. Before going to the restaurant, which has a few other rooms above it, the chef walks up his garden greeting its inhabitants as he goes. Two crested cranes, a colony of chicks following strictly in the footsteps of their mother hen, a few cockerels with bright combs…and everywhere, species of trees and shrubs each as scented, colourful and strange as each other. This house breathes life.
An art and nature lover, Eric Guérin is a special chef in the French culinary landscape. Not only has he managed to create a very personal cuisine but also a unique universe. "I have put everything that is me into the Mare, the things I love. This house, it's me, quite simply," with an explosion of lovely objects and rare furniture. Each thing seems as if it's in its natural place. It must be said that the aesthete chef had the right upbringing with art collector parents, his mother owning a gallery at Limetz-Villez, a stone's throw from Giverny where Eric, moreover, recently opened Le Jardin des Plumes.
The Brière chef spent his childhood in the Norman Vexin, "We used to come to Brière with my father when I was young. I fell in love with it." And it is naturally in this green corner that he opened his first restaurant, L'Auberge du Parc, which became La Mare aux Oiseaux in 1995. Before that, the young Eric Guérin went to be trained with the best in Paris. Taillevent, La Tour d’Argent...but do we still need to mention the training of a chef who for a long time now has developed his own identity in cooking? In him, the trigger does not seem to have come from contact with trainers, but from an environment, or from other chefs of his own generation. "The Brière inspires me but I also need to meet with other cooks. We don't feel alone, we are part of a momentum, a movement in French cooking."
His dishes abound with these encounters, are enriched by these influences. Never narrow, never inward looking, they are colourful, full of flavour, playing with textures like this egg in crab jelly, radishes and peas. Or this langoustine, black Aomori garlic, confit gizzards and almond milk peas. Recently, the La Mare aux Oiseaux menu has focused on a key "totem menu where people taste 5, 7 or 9 dishes. It's a real Eric Guérin journey, totally controlled, which changes according to the seasons obviously," says the chef. This menu includes some so-called signature dishes like octopus pigeon or pressed foie gras, cooked one summer with feta and Kalamata olives.
For even if influences jostle with each other, the Brière remains present. "I also have a Produce menu where we offer Brière milk-fed veal, beef produced in Brière, honey from here...the fish arrives straight from le Croisic or la Turballe. And as for herbs, "no worries with the garden." Look, let's take the eel! It is served accompanied by a smoked purée and a garden herbs jus made from lovage, parsley, fennel, chervil, wild mint, coriander and tarragon. The enormous fig tree leaning against the house is also put to good use. Eric picks not only the magnificent figs dripping with sugar but also the leaves. "I dry them in the oven and then burn them with a blowtorch. The swallow is then rolled in the ashes. And I keep the raw leaves to make a vinegar emulsion." Ideas, taste...genius!
In this house we feel a real pleasure in serving and in giving pleasure. The whole team is welcoming, smiling and generous like the chef. During a recent meal, "the first 4 hands of La Mare aux Oiseaux, with the Top Chef finalist, Florent Layden," Eric Guérin could have filled his restaurant 4 times over during this very popular evening. But he preferred to reserve a whole table for his producers who were invited for the occasion. Sitting peacefully at a table in the garden, Alain the bee-keeper, Lionel the salt worker, Remy the pigeon-keeper and Damien the red fruit producer…enjoyed their meal.
Discover our charming hotel La Mare aux Oiseaux
What if you were...Eric Guérin
- What if you were a dish?
- A Greek octopus salad in Italy, where, for a stopover in Corsica, it's the top holiday destination...
- What if you were a supplier?
- Because of the shared passion for birds that unites us, I'd say Rémy and Mathieu Anezo and their fabulous Mesquer pigeons
- What if you were a gourmet memory of your childhood?
- Mum's plum tart in Alsace made with fruit from my grandparents' garden
- What if you were a cuisine of the future?
- Definitely that of today as for me cooking is a means of expression, you have to experience it in its time and watch it evolve
- What if you were a cooking tip?
- That of smoking food with Brière peat, it very quickly enabled me to tell stories drawing deeply from the roots of my adopted region
- What if you were a product?
- I will definitely be a citrus fruit in the fingers of Bénédicte and Michel Baches, for the knowledge and love they give them... Or a grain of salt between sky and sea, but from Guérande
- What if you were a region, a country or a city?
- It would be hard for me to choose any other region than the one I chose 18 years ago. A country? France, just like the world, is full of places that can be made magical if we just know how to look at them. A country, certainly the world, and a city, New York for its energy and its tranquillity
- What if you were another chef?
- Why? I like my career and what I've become, a lovely mix of cooks who have passed things on to me across a generation, and I have added real personality to it
- What if you were a character (real or fictitious)?
- Leonardo da Vinci, he looked at things in a different way
- What if you were an art?
- Sculpture for creation, touch... Photography for looking. Bonsai for patience and respect
- What if you were a customer, what would you expect from your restaurant?
- What I look for elsewhere: to go into a universe that transports me, charms me, makes me travel, dream, share, and leaves images with me for life. A place that feeds the soul