Oustau de Baumanière
Oustau de Baumanière
To contact the establishment
13520 Les-Baux-de-Provence
Tel: (33) 04 90 54 33 07
Fax: (33) 04 90 54 40 46
Owner: Famille Charial
Director: Jean-André & Geneviève Charial
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Amidst the breathtaking vistas of the South of France stands one of the most beautiful villages in the world: Les Baux-de-Provence. It is also one of the strangest, where a dreamlike landscape extends between the incredible architecture of the half-eroded citadel on the cliffs (the work of nature combined with the work of man) and the Val d'Enfer, or valley of hell, which according to legend teemed with a race of goblins and witches. But this Dantesque valley of hell also proves to be the path to paradise. For it was here in 1945 that Raymond Thuilier, an insurance executive, fell in love with a crumbling old 17th century farmhouse. This bon vivant from Lyon was nostalgic for the cooking of his mother, who ran a rail station restaurant in Ardèche. At the end of the war, he rolled up his sleeves, repaired the building and created a gastronomic inn. Now the Oustau de Baumanière is in the hands of his grandson, Jean-André Charial and his wife Geneviève.

Trained as both a cook and a winemaker, Jean-André entered the business at his grandfather's request after working with some of France's great chefs: Troisgros, Chapel, Haeberlin, Bocuse and Girardet. It was a tour that proved his rite-of-passage, an immersion course in modern gastronomy. It's a path that he continues on today, while never renouncing his heritage, creating stylized flavors with lightened sauces: a basil emulsion here, a tomato infusion there. Sophisticated delights… In the service of this subtle cuisine, Jean-André Charial grows a kitchen garden with zucchini flowers, ultra-thin green beans and peas and a whole palette of aromatic herbs. He has his own olive grove and grapevines, his other passion, where he produces wine from old Grenache stock which he calls "L'Affectif."

Jean-André passionately carries on the voyage through the garden of flavors begun by his remarkable grandfather. Food should be an ongoing invitation to happiness. Charial explains, "My cooking is inextricably tied to Lex-Baux-de-Provence, to this valley, the light, the purity and power of this environment."

He has distilled the house philosophy: perfection and simplicity. Diners are treated to stuffed little vegetables, asparagus and truffle "cappuccino," truffle and leek ravioli, new vegetables with local olive oil, red mullet with basil, sea bass roasted on its skin with flat leaf parsley and confit lemon, pan-seared John Dory with little beans, tomatoes and taggiasche olives, suckling pig with the head served in salad…

Some dishes on the menu have become classics, like the truffle and leek ravioli and the wonderful leg of lamb en croûte. A kitchen secret: while lamb adores being rubbed with Espelette chili and being coated in an herb crust, it also takes well to being cooked slowly: Roast the shoulder and saddle in the oven until medium-rare. Remove the meat, degrease the pan and add some olive oil and equal quantities of lightly roasted tomatoes and thinly sliced mild onions. Place the meat on top and return to the oven for about an hour longer so that everything cooks slowly. Serve the shoulder and saddle with the garnish, the lamb jus and taggiasche olives. Simply sublime.

The warmth of the welcome is renowned and the rooms are luminous in this 500-year old mas surrounded by trees and rocks that evoke the Provence beloved of Cézanne. The dining room, with its vaulted architecture and large flagstones, exudes sophistication. Decorators Michèle Halard and Stéphane Plassier have designed an intimate and luxurious setting with carefully-planned lighting, abundant flowers and works of art. In fine weather, the tables are set on a glorious patio under the mulberry trees to take advantage of the sun, colors and scents. The old buildings, overlooking the pool and the magnificent gardens, glow with an extraordinary light.

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