Jérôme Héraud wears any number of hats during his working day: a toque blanche, that of director, as a friend and confidant of his staff, and perhaps even humanitarian. He’s a rare character, and despite having only got to bed at 4am, is bright and open when we met just before lunch service at the Hôtel Cantemerle in Vence.
“I don’t always work into the early hours,” he says with a husky voice that, rather from shouting in the kitchen, is more likely due to staying up chatting after he’d usually be in bed. “We had a party for the Japanese brand Shiseido last night and I like to put all my efforts into ensuring our events are a success.”
The hotel in the hills has had many a highprofile guest here in recent weeks, including the owner of fellow fashion house Louis Vuitton in May. But even if there isn’t an important soirée on the agenda, the days are often long for this head chef and general director: he never runs out of tasks to do or projects to work on.
Since joining the Cantemerle, which was built in the early 80s, in 2008, it’s been Héraud’s mission to transform the four-star establishment into the ‘hotel of tomorrow’. By his own definition, he wants it to become a place that provides a depth of experiences for its clientele that go far beyond a comfy bed for the night and good breakfast in the morning. He laughs as he explains he’s on his fourteenth version of updates, but there seems to be plenty going on as we tour the property.
For one, an entirely new building will be added by spring next year – the Bastide aux Agrumes – that will serve as a space for private events such as conferences, seminars and even marriages. In addition to a generous heated outdoor pool, the 27-room hotel also has a spa suite. Héraud reveals he has lans to extend its beautifully tiled emerald indoor pool to take full advantage of its richly green and natural setting. Work won’t begin until 2019 at least; he has his hands full deciding what to do with the neighbouring château that the Cantemerle bought some years ago.
In the hotel’s kitchens, the team isn’t showing any signs of fatigue after last night’s event, but it’s left its mark in other ways. Magnificent arrangements of flowers and seasonal vegetables that fill all available counter space are being delicately dismantled and separated into various crates. Some of the produce will be turned into lunch and dinner, the rest will be sent to the Red Cross to distribute. Héraud isn’t someone to tolerate waste and inconsiderateness.
“Every action has importance,” he explains of his philosophy, “long-term benefits can be achieved with just a little thought.” He demonstrates this almost holistic approach in many ways, from the obvious strength of the relationships he holds with his staff members to the vegetable plot that encircles the Table du Cantemerle’s terrace. As well as growing a range of produce – including some kumquats you’ll find in a variety of ways on his menu – the potager provides 100% of the herbs used in the restaurant’s dishes. He’d like for more of his supply to come from the grounds, but admits: “Even in the Mediterranean, we can’t bank on the success of organic produce...”
Héraud’s an intelligent man with a keen interest in food science and history. After a curious conversation about the Egyptians inventing foie gras – not something a French person is ever likely to admit, let alone a French chef – talk turns to innovation and his particular passion for the humble pain.
“Bread is life,” he says simply. “Battles have been waged, won and lost over it. It was crucial to me that we focus on this product in particular, and we work with a very special organic and independent producer in Cucugnan called Les Maîtres de Mon Moulin. The founder’s an agricultural engineer who became a baker: his work is profound with understanding and respect for the grain. These values, I hope, reflect my own.”
La Table du Cantemerle
The restaurant is open every day for lunches and dinners except Monday and Sunday evenings, with menus available from €27 (a two-course weekday lunch, €39 for a two-course weekend lunch and weekend meals) to €57 (for a four-course meal). Live music is laid on every Thursday evening during the summer months and a seafood buffet à volonté takes place every Friday from €59.
For €129 from Tuesday to Friday or €149 at the weekend, enjoy a three-course lunch, access to spa and pool and a one-hour treatment of your choice. A three-course lunch with access to the pool and spa suite is also available from €45 (Tuesday to Friday) and €65 (weekend).
Reservations are recommended.