Oustau de Baumanière

September 20, 2009

In 1954, Raymond Thuilier’s Baumanière won Michelin’s top three-star rating, which it kept for 35 years. The restaurant has had two stars since 1990 after M. Thuilier relinquished the reins to his grandson, born in 1946 when L’Oustau de Baumanière was established. I first went in 1959 and had the famous Gigot d’Agneau en Croûte. Linda and I first dined together at the Baumanière in 1980. Our stay there on September 14, 2009, was our fifth time. We had reserved on the Forfait Gastronomique, which included the room, dinner, breakfast, a cookbook and, most memorably, a visit to the kitchen.

The setting is in a valley under Les Baux-de-Provence, an historic site and now a major tourist attraction. The rocky scenery is dramatic. The Baumanière is centered on a restored 17th century building. It is surrounded by plenty of its own property. Thuilier had his own kitchen garden long before this became a trendy feature of upscale restaurants. Our spacious, airy room was the one in the upper left of this photo.

There was a strong mistral blowing that night, the first of the season in which dinner was not served outside on the lovely terrace.

The dining room has a spacious Provençale ambience.


We ordered glasses of the Baumaniére Brut Champagne as apéritif. Hors d’œuvres arrived: an excellent little pastry pouch with a ham ragout, a tube with artichoke purée, olives and tapanade.


These were followed by a substantial and delicious mise en bouche:
a filet of rouget au pistou and a tartare of tomatoes in a brick ring.

We would revisit the preparation of these the following morning (see below.)

With our Forfait Gastronomique we were served the Menu Dégustation, La Ballade des Baux, with wine pairings. This started with
Foie gras de canard, confit au naturel, cerises de pays en fine gelée épicée

This foie gras terrine was rich and nice, but not unusual. It was topped with a cherry gel.
The wine was a Château Gigognan Vigne du Prieuré, Viognier, Roussanne and Clairette, Côtes de Rhône. Its fruitiness went well with the foie gras.

Les langoustines de Bretagne, en tranches, juste marinées au goût de gingembre et citronnelle, quelques aromates croquants et herbes fraîches, bouillon des têtes infusé à la graine de cardomome.

The prawns were completely submerged in every way by the spiced broth.
The wine was a Vin de Provence of which I didn’t record the name; it was made from Rolle and Clairette and was a good dry accompaniment to this and the next course. 

Sole de Méditerranée, cuite à la vapeur d’algues, jus de persil plat lié d’huile d’olive de la Vallée des Baux, olives cassées en tapenade et écrevisses à pattes rouges de Camargue.

This good piece of steamed fish had its flavor brought out by the olive oil and the clams. The crawfish was pretty and the little piece of its meat sticking out its rear was good, but it had nothing to do to with the fish. I would rather have had a few more clams. 

Pigeon des costières, rôti puis laqué, navets et betteraves glacés aux sucs de lavandes

This pigeon course was quite rich. The turnip and beet rounds stood up to the dark pigeon glaze sauce.
The wine with this was a 2003 Charial les Baux. This house wine made from Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan grapes was served at cellar temperature, which was much too cold for us. 

Kyrielle de fromages, assortiment de pains

The cheese cart offered a wide selection. Linda’s was a runny Époisses and two good goat cheeses. Mine was Fourme d’Ambert, Comté and Livarot. Very good, particularly the well aged Comté and the Époisses. 

The predessert was
Par gourmandise, macaron glacé à l’olive, framboises en infusion de fleurs et fruits de pays

The olive oil ice cream was delicious.

Dessert was
La fraise, en vacherin contemporain à notre facon, Eté 2009, abricot/vanilla/pistache

A strawberry sorbet topped a chilled creamy ball in a dish giving off frosty vaors. Little wild strawberries and strawberry marshmallow cubes were on the left.

We had already had as much sugar as we can handle and skipped the beautiful cart of
Mignardises et gourmandises


The following morning we had a breakfast with excellent croissants, pain au chocolat etc etc.

The olive tree “bonsai” which decorate all the tables are made of metal.

At 10:15 am we presented ourselves for the visit to the kitchen which came with our Forfait Gastronomique.

We were supplied with aprons, towels and toques.

Our first task was to help prepare the cherry tomatoes from the garden for their slow cooking.

The stems had already been removed from most of them.

My job was to cut them in half and to make a tiny slice on the bottom so they would stand upright. All around me were young cooks doing similar, but more skillful, preparations of ingredients.

Linda was working with Bernard, our host and a twenty-year veteran of the Baumanière’s kitchen, to line up the tomatoes on a sulferised sheet and to sprinkle on herbs, garlic, Espelette pepper etc.

After we went on to observe the rouget preparation, Bernard finished the tomatoes and put them under low heat for the next 24 hours.

Meanwhile the kitchen was full of many kinds of preparation activities. All of the young staff seemed to know just what they were expected to do without any direction.

Chopping fresh herbs and preparing greens from the garden. Making potato squares from round potato slices.

The trimmings from her shaping of the veal slices are in the bowl on the left. Now she is studding them with truffle bits.

Freshly trimmed artichokes. The cart of pastries ready for the oven.

Slices of long turnips simmering in a broth.

Light bread balls.

Cleaning just-shelled raw langoustines.

Spice mixtures are prepared and ready.

We joined Gary, a Belgian who has been at the Baumanière for two years, for the cooking of the filets of rougets. He had boned and cut them the day before and stored them in a sous-vide, or vacuum pack, in the refrigerator overnight. Little bowls of seasonings etc were conveniently laid out. We watched Gary prepare two strips of brick, with tapande in between, rolled around a cylinder and put in the oven to crisp. He also made a tartare of diced tomatoes with herbs and balsamic vinegar. These would accompany the rougets.

You can see the tomato tartare on the left. The filets on the right have been topped with a basil leaf and an oiled strip of brick. When fried, the brick becomes very crisp and not evident, adding to the crispy skin effect. An interesting little secret.

Gary has delicately scored the skin of the other filets which keeps them from shriveling up when cooked.

Gary decorates the plates with pistou and tomato sauce. He then rubs a napkin around the edges to create a rectangular frame.

The filets are put on; the brick circle is filled with the tomato tartare and topped with fresh herbs.

We were served the eight filets and the tomato ring as an early lunch in a corner of the kitchen. They were very good.

Lucky us.

Meanwhile, the staff’s chicken lunch has been simmering. Kitchen activity winds down about 11:30 so they can eat before customers start arriving. Bernard invited us to join them, but we declined and thanked him for the excellent kitchen experience we had enjoyed.


One Response to “Oustau de Baumanière”

  1. kristin Says:

    What great photos! It looks like you were having a wonderful time in the kitchen.

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