Provins. A 12th-century commercial city, the medieval home of the famous Champagne Fairs, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Provins, its 5 kilometres of walls, imposing Tour César, winding lanes, Place Chatel and its Hostellerie Aux Vieux Remparts, owned by Xavier and Cécile Roy. A rustic and delightfully shady terrace. 40 rooms, three restaurants, a shop, a spa...while waiting for the quiet, vaulted bar. Sitting at a table, away from the crowd, you can feel the full force of the serenity that is a feature of Relais du Silence.
The scene is set; now all that remains is to introduce the central character of our gourmet history. Here he is, coming out of his kitchen...Lionel Seret, the Vieux Remparts chef, a local man, gallant knight of good taste, loyal to his town and his business. "I came here for the first time in 1994, as an apprentice, and I've known three chefs and three different kitchens here. I like to think that I've travelled while staying in the same place," says the young chef, 34, with a smile. Today he is the head of the Les Vieux Remparts restaurant, but also of Le Petit Ecu and the brand new L’Esquisse, which opened in April 2013. "Again, three different kitchens. More snack bar and bistro at Le Petit Ecu, traditional at Les Vieux Remparts and gastronomic at L’Esquisse."
For all that, there is nothing to turn the head of this calm, level-headed chef, similar to l’Esquisse, a quietly refined restaurant delicately coiled within the walls of the Hostellerie. It is here, moreover, that Lionel Seret expresses his creativity to the full. A sincere form of cooking, not showy but the fruit of an environment and a personality. Authentic cooking sought by regulars at Relais du Silence hotels.
"I like it that we find the flavours on the plate," like this recipe for scallops with artichokes barigoule, escabeche of pan-fried mussels and chorizo stock. "Yes, it's a nod to my mother and grandmother, who are both from Valencia. You will also find a lovely pata negra in my vegetable tartlet." Elsewhere in the meal, local produce is highlighted. Like these snails farmed by Pascal and Francine Janic, who settled at Pamfou in the Marne area in 2011.
"Gros Gris snails farmed in natural conditions, growing and feeding on plant cover made up of radish, clover, rape, etc. Pascal and Francine have really adapted to their animals, which have the taste of this land. Some lamb's lettuce and great finesse in the mouth," says Lionel who makes the effort to meet his producers on the ground before taking their produce to a new level on the plate. After preparing them in tempura, with foie gras grease or even, in the winter, with forgotten vegetables, Lionel recently served them on a pea purée, garlic, candied rose and cromesquis with Provins Brie. Another local product! The same applies to the poultry of Fabien Bourdicaud, a farmer at Esternay in the Marne area.
And the rest? "From Rungis [the large wholesale food market] obviously every week. I go there personally each time the menu changes, to have a look at new products and talk to the producers." On the pass, in the kitchen, herbs also have an important place and the chef is quick to pick some to accompany his dishes.
Discover our charming hotel Hostellerie Aux Vieux Remparts
What if you were...Lionel Seret
- What if you were a dish?
- Cuban rice, arroz a la cubana
- What if you were a producer?
- A market gardener
- What if you were a gourmet memory of your childhood?
- A croque monsieur with Nutella
- What if you were a cuisine of the future?
- I would be the cuisine of yesterday
- What if you were a cooking tip?
- Dry aromatic herbs from the garden
- What if you were a product?
- I'd be a very good Spanish dry-cured ham, of the pata negra type
- What if you were a region, a country or a city?
- Why not Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Spain and Valencia!
- What if you were another chef?
- Alain Dutournier
- What if you were a character (real or fictitious)?
- I'd be a cartoon superhero
- What if you were an art?
- Culinary art
- What if you were a customer, what would you expect from your restaurant?
- Quality of course, but with complete simplicity