Christian Maurino’s childhood and adolescence passed in a cosy region of Provence located between the Rhone valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Alps, the Côte d'Azur and Corsica. Uniqueness of the location granted variety of natural and delicious foodstuff to local residents. Lambs fed on alpine meadows, pheasants from the banks of the Durans River, river pike-perch from cold streams of Provence waters, marmoreal Rabass black truffle – all of this inspired Christian in choosing his future profession. When he was 13 he get the idea that cookery will become not just a hobby but engagement of his whole life.
July 1975 was the first time, when the maestro got to kitchen as an apprentice under the leadership of Claude Richaud who was an owner of a XVIII century hotel-restaurant, in which Henri Giscard d’Estaing, the then president of France, and his wife used to have a lunch. Just then Christian got inspired with the idea to open his own restaurant, however realizing that he had a lot to learn. Upon reaching required age he was adopted to the Escofier School of Culinary Arts. Being a man of a character, Christian got used to achieve his goals and always strived for new knowledge and experiments.
His mentor – monsieur Claude Bertrand tirelessly called upon Claude not to be afraid to go beyond the professional limits of an apprentice and to expand customary bounds.
The next step on his way to the profession was education in the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris, and then there were probation periods in different towns of France (Courchevel, Méribel, Tignes, Cannes, Ajaccio) and preparation for qualifying examination in gastronomy, which was crucial in his formation as a professional chef. Having successfully held up through all trials and passing a test, Christian realized that his turbulent career was just about to begin.
In 1988 Christian got his wish – he opened his first restaurant in a resort town of Bormes-les-Mimosas on the Côte d'Azur. However it wasn’t enough for him: bit by bit cookery has turned into a real passion for the maestro and he realized that if you want to comprehend a really challenging but interesting gastronomical science you have to share experiences with chefs from other countries and to learn about new products and secrets to cook them.
Charmed by this world, seeking for knowledge and enamoured of cookery, Christian sold his restaurant and went to travel around the world. He worked in Central America, in the Caribbean, in the Far East, and at last found himself in Moscow, Russia. As Christian says, Moscow charmed him, he fell in love with the city as if it was a beautiful woman and now he cannot be far from it for long. It was a particular pleasure for Christian to see how a Russian clients’s sense of taste evolves and how people are imbued with the culinary art. Christian loved Russian markets and some of national dishes which he adapted in his own way.
The main principle for the chef in the “Parisienne” which has become so beloved among the Russians – is the ability to divine visitors’ wishes and aspiration to give pleasure with his own creations. “You got to love what you do and then your guests will love it as well!” – said Christian day by day, incarnating his words into his most delicious and scrumptious dishes.
Christian, let’s get started from the most important: how to become a real chef?
- When I was 13 I had to choose my profession. I wanted to create only with my own hands, that’s why I had to choose between a landscape designer or a chef. I tried to cook and decided to go further just that way. Then there were probation periods, education at the Ritz Escoffer in Paris. Then there was a small Provence restaurant, seasonal cuisine based on local products, then more and more studying. Later on I wound up in Corsica in the BecFin restaurant. There I realized how much I like to work with fresh fish and seafood. I would have been stayed there, however two years after, I studied classic French cookery in the Paul Bacuse’s restaurant: hurrah for meat, sausage, bouillons and cream! To fish I returned only after three years, having settled down in Cannes and saw myself as an expert in every trend of French cuisine. Nevertheless fish I like the most.
Did you experiment with cooking traditions of other countries?
- You see, being a half Italian I know this cuisine very well. It’s perfect for home – it’s simple, delicious, and appearance is not so important, the main thing is that it would be a plenty of it and nourishing. French cuisine is a different matter – it is perfectionism in everything: a guest must be admired just after a mere look on a dish, and he mustn’t be disappointed tasting it. That’s why I say that French cuisine is an art; it is a beauty of a dish, versatility of tastes and delight of an aftertaste. And I want to do just this art.
Do you think Moscow gourmets are able to fully appreciate your works?
- Presently, they are. However six years ago, when I came to Moscow for the first time in a Moscow restaurant, clients were not so fussy about gourmet cookery. They didn’t care about what was on their plates. They thought that if you come to a luxury restaurant then everything there is meant to be praised. It’s really boring, and I went to Morocco where I was engaged by a royal family. You should imagine all the beauty I was met with… But I couldn’t think that a religion would become an obstacle. I’m an atheist, but Moroccans are very religious. There was all a ritual there. I didn’t blend in this ritual and it dispirited me a lot. An invitation from Vladislav to lead a cooking here, in the “Parisienne” – in already versed Moscow – was a real present. Now I can cook my complex and beautiful dishes and know that I will be understood and appreciated – people imbued with culinary culture in the right way. I like that a client waits new impressions from my cooking. And look who clients are! Once I was invited to make a banquet for the president Medvedev. I am far from politics, I am a cook and do my job; nevertheless I was flattered to cook for the president of the large country.
How do you rest?
- I go to my mother’s every three months and spend a week with her.
Do you cook for her?
- No, I don’t! I can cook only in a professional kitchen. Because at home it would be a real clutter. Indeed, it’s a real madness to venture upon something like this only for four persons. So, my relatives can taste my cooking only at the restaurant.
How and where do you get new ideas?
- I love traveling; I have already traveled halfway around the world. In my trips I never stay at hotels with their regimes and adapted menus for tourists – I go straight away to a market. It’s important for me to understand every product, every spice, herbs. I touch them, examine, sniff and taste them. Only this way you can understand a culture of the place. And from this comes an inspiration for my experiments. For example, when I come to Moscow for the first time I had no idea about borsch or pelmeni. But now I cook real Russian borsch but add in final a bit of truffle oil. You can consider this as an autograph! And I make pelmeni with foie gras and shrimps. And Russian smoked sausage – it’s a real something! Tasting it I made up my mind to do a revolution: by the festival of Beaujolais I baked it with oysters. The result was an unusual hors d’oeuvre, and clients appreciated this.
How far experiments can go in traditional French cuisine?
- I would say, exceptions must confirm rules. The main principle is only one: respect for a product. Let’s say, a man grows carrot, he works on it, spends his energy for it, so I must respect this man’s work. I must respect meat that is brought to my kitchen, because it was grown thanks to somebody’s works and cares. Only respecting a product I can cook a nice dish from it. You should taste my veal with truffles and a simplest garnish, and you will feel my respect for you, I transmit it to you through my dish which I cook with my own hands and my head.
What is awaiting us next: strengthening positions of French cuisine in Russia?
- I will continue to create and travel. And when it will be time to retire, I want to pass my knowledge to someone to whom it may be useful. I saw the world and saw talented children who had no perspectives only because their families had not enough money just for food, let alone education. So, I want to pass my experience to someone who feels a calling inside himself but cannot pay for knowledge. I will teach, I will share what I had time to find out and understand in my gastronomic life.