by Guylaine Idoux, pictures by Jean Fondacci
He arrives on a motorbike, the point of his cowboy boots under his white chef’s overalls and confesses to listening to indy rock when cooking to keep him going.
Gérald Passédat, the talented chef at the Petit Nice, is miles away from the image that we might have of a three Michelin-star chef. But the man is of course far from being as casual as his look may lead us to believe. That morning, sat in the lounge bar of the hotel restaurant where two generations of Passédats preceded him, he hid his impatience to get back to the kitchen quite well, as he talked about the almost carnal link he has with the sea that surrounds him. “I grew up in this house at the seaside. Just like the other kids in the neighbourhood, I went off to eat mussels or snails in the rocks”. Already, the décor is a promise. In the southern neighbourhoods of Marseilles, perched above the harbour, the Petit Nice is an attractive Mediterranean building, a stylish oasis amongst the older fishermen’s villages along the Marseilles coast; two recently renovated white villas form a luxurious and tranquil enclave, a white balustrade that forms a frontier with the blue sea, delimiting a vast terrace hidden from prying eyes for a handful of privileged guests.
The long corridor leads to the room, a view on the way through of the gleaming
new kitchens in nickel and chrome where the brigade in white overalls is already bustling. In less than one hour the choreography of lunch will start, organised, as every day, around the products of the sea, fish and seafood of the Mediterranean. “I get my supplies from the best long liners in Marseille. My father got his from their parents” explains the chef. These artisans work almost exclusively for him bringing back dentist fish, bass or John Dory when returning from their days at sea. Is he asked about the organic bass fish farm created on the island of Frioul, opposite Marseilles? The response is quick: “I only do wild fish”. Passédat’s cuisine is refined, elaborated, sometimes almost intellectual, such as this deep sea lobster with thin strips of carrots and red chicory, just posed on a bright blue consommé, accompanied by a green mango purée, or the bouillabaisse, one of the signature dishes served on three dishes or the sea anemone, served in fritters, that will only deliver its strange sea-tasting juice just as it is swallowed. When it’s time to go back to the real world, the one that exists beyond the Petit Nice oasis, it’s like coming back from a long dive in the Mediterranean. The chef is long gone. He slipped away in a canoe, the one that is always underneath the Petit Nice and that waits for him for his long trips across the sea.
Menu 85-230€ (booking advised), closed Sunday and Monday all day, dinner facing the sea in the summer garden if the weather permits. Covered and free car park. Annual closure: ten days in November, 15 days in January, 1 week in February.
Le Petit Nice
Anse de Maldormé
Corniche J.-F. Kennedy
13007 Marseille - France
Tel: +33 (0)4 91 592 808