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Kings of cuisine: chefs gather at Les Etoiles de Mougins

Denis Fetisson, owner of La Place de Mougins and l'Amandier It is a rare occasion to see so many chefs in one place (and not in the kitchen), but Les Étoiles de Mougins has become an unmissable date in the calendar for culinary masters the world over. With over 120 chefs of the highest caliber expected at the 2017 gastronomic rendez-vous, I headed to Mougins to meet chef Denis Fetisson, the owner of La Place de Mougins and L’Amandier, and learn more about this iconic festival.

“In the 1970s, Mougins was the place with the most Michelin stars in the whole of France,” says Denis from the sophisticated dining room of La Place de Mougins. “Roger Vergé is one of the legends of French cuisine and in 2006, Les Étoiles de Mougins was founded in his honour.”

Since then, the annual event has grown considerably to welcome some of the biggest names in global cuisine through its doors. For the 2017 edition, chef Daniel Boulud – the owner of restaurants across the US, Canada, London and Singapore – will act as president. Daniel himself has two Michelin stars from his restaurant in NYC’s Upper East Side and will be one of the most acclaimed chefs to take on the role in the event’s decade long history.

Taking place from 23rd to 25th June in the heart of the old town, it is a unique opportunity in which the public can meet and observe chefs of the highest quality in the kitchen as they host workshops, demonstrations and pop-up restaurants; participate in competitions; and hold seminars.

Festival highlights this year will include four competitive events (Best Young Chef, Best Young Pâtissier, Best Young Sommelier and Best Barman) as well as the free-toenter Live Bistro arena with its eight food trucks, brewer and non-stop music.

For Denis, who worked alongside Vergé as a young man in the iconic three Michelin-starred restaurant Moulin de Mougins, the event is a moment in which chefs can come together and share ideas, new culinary concepts and techniques as well as lift the curtain on haute cuisine for the many thousands of ordinary people (over 30,000 visitors attended the event in 2016) who flock here to see their idols.

“There’s a strong element of friendship between the chefs here,” Denis explains, “and that’s very important as we are often isolated in our own kitchens. It’s a chance to see old friends and meet suppliers.” Mougins has a long gastronomic tradition that was finally recognised in 2011 when it was awarded the prestigious title of Ville et Métiers d’Art within the gourmet sphere: the only of its kind in France. It has over 40 quality restaurants – among them Michelinstarred establishments such as Paloma (two stars) and Le Candille (one star) – despite having a modest population of around 20,000.

It is a town that has pushed at the boundaries of cuisine; a place where innovation and creativity is the heart and soul of the kitchen. Denis is no different and has acquired a legion of loyal clients who visit his flagship restaurant, La Place de Mougins, all through the year to sample his signature Produit à l’Honneur. Each month, the Marseille-born chef selects a seasonal and locally sourced product to feature on each course of a specially designed menu. In May, it will be the aubergine while in June, guests will indulge in girolles.

“It pushes one to be creative,” he says of his six-course menu, “and encourages a great respect for the product. It’s also something our guests enjoy discovering. They can come again and again, but never experience the same flavours.”

Buying locally and only selecting seasonal produce is a movement that Denis hopes continues within today’s cuisine: “I was only saying earlier to my team that if everyone bought locally then we’d be able to eliminate all of the problems that come with importing food from around the world. The physical energy and fuel needed to transport the goods, the exploitation of farmers and workers… I try wherever I can to buy my meats, fish and vegetables here in France or in Italy.” A voyage of flavour and discovery awaits in Mougins and at Les Etoiles de Mougins this summer, and La Place de Mougins comes highly recommended as your first stop on the journey.

Free entrance, tastings from 5€.

Elsa Carpenter