Set in lush Normandy countryside between Étretat and Fécamp, Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant is not an address you’d stumble upon. Instead, with a Michelin star and a formidable reputation built by chef and owner Pierre Caillet, this is a spot where foodies make pilgrimage. One Friday night I was lucky enough not only to dine here but to sit at the chef’s table and watch the magic happen…
The first thing that struck me was how calm and controlled the kitchen was – a far cry from how I’d imagined most professional kitchens. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Gordon Ramsay but there was zero evidence of the hot-headed chef barking orders whilst the rest of the team was gripped with panic.
There were several set menus of differing sizes all the way up to a nine-course tasting menu as well as à la carte. Stuck in a state of indecision, Chef quizzed me on my appetite, checked if there was anything I didn’t like and said that he would take care of my menu choices. Phew.Despite being fully booked on a Friday night, Chef Pierre happily talked me through what he was preparing, discussed how he’d paired flavours and introduced me to the ingredients that he was most excited about.
I was amazed to see that three or four of the team might work on one single dish. Each was plated to perfection and nothing left the kitchen without final approval from Chef Pierre.
After a selection of amuse bouche, I started off with foie gras coated in a jelly of reduced beetroot served with the shaved cedrat zest – a sharp Japanese citrus fruit, and garnished with tiny fresh flowers. It was a beautiful sight – the red round of foie gras looked like a giant sweetie and Chef Pierre explained that the bitter citrus flavour balanced the richness of the paté.
Next came scallop from Fécamp, marinated in the juice of kalamansi – another exotic citrus fruit, lightly poached and served with parsley root mousse and crisps – an old fashioned and nearly forgotten vegetable.
And then another dish came my way, Jerusalem artichoke with a white truffle ice cream. Chef Pierre informed me that truffle season had just started and I was eating part of his order of five Alsatian truffles that would last him three months. I’d not tried a savoury ice cream before and Chef explained that the ice cream mellowed the strong flavours of the truffle and artichoke – and it did!
After a dalliance with an enormous cheese board, it was onto dessert: a light mousse of baked apple served on a yummy layer of something resembling a biscuit base and served with a cider coulis. It was light, fresh and ridiculously yummy.
Between courses Pierre explained that his cooking is based around reworking the big French classics inspired by exotic and forgotten ingredients. Originally from Paris, after spending two years in Tipperary, Ireland, Pierre and his family returned to France and settled in Normandy to be close to his in-laws. When Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant was for sale, they snatched it up. Pierre explained that along with the advantages of running a country restaurant – he grows much of his own vegetables and all his herbs- it poses challenges too. Building a reputation was key to winning customers and after many years of hard work, in 2011 he was awarded the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This national competition, overseen by the French Ministry of Labour, takes place every four years to award outstanding ability in a number of fields. Hundreds of chefs enter but after 18-months of examinations, Pierre was one of only eight chefs to be awarded the life-long title. Soon after in 2012, Le Bec au Cauchois was awarded one Michelin star.
Its reputation is now sealed and Pierre and his team cook for a full house most nights. For an unforgettable culinary experience, be sure to book ahead at Le Bec au Cauchois!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
All photos and text © Maggie McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board