Michelin-star chef Paolo Sari on his battle to promote organic food. In 2014, Venetian Paolo Sari and his restaurant Elsa at Monte Carlo Beach was the first 100% organic restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star for its exquisitely delicious cuisine. Today it is still the only one. He pours his heart out to Petra Hall.
Paolo, three years ago the Michelin Guide awarded you the first star for a 100% organic restaurant. At the time you were in seventh heaven, how do you feel now?
I have come back to earth with a bump. At the time, I thought the Michelin star would open many doors; that more and more people would finally realise that organic food is not a fad, but the only way to live. It is disappointing to see how few people realise this. I thought the battle would be easier. Much more effort is required if we are to convince people how important it is to eat healthy food. For example, no agriculture ministry publicises the fact that chemical fertilisers can cause cancer.
Have you noticed any changes in awareness among your guests over the last three years?
Up to a point, but not to the extent I expected. People are deaf to the problem. They make passionate speeches about how we must save the oceans, but strangely enough, they don’t think about eating healthily. However, I must also point out that in the past, people just came to the Monte Carlo Beach. Today they come to eat at Elsa and many have become regulars. If you have a beach cabana, you can order your meal from Elsa. We only serve what is in season and so, for example, we have led people back to enjoying the authentic taste of tomatoes, zucchini, herbs and strawberries.
What do you do to raise awareness of the environment?
A lot! In 2015, I founded the non-profit Bio Chef Global Spirit. Among other things, the aim is to promote organic cultivation within a radius of about 100km with our Orto initiative that supports organic farmers and organise events that promote respect for nature. We also want to encourage hotels, restaurants, schools and institutions like the hospital in Monaco to take courses on organic produce. With this in mind, we are hosting the third annual La Route du Goût Rendezvous. It runs from 12th to 15th October and offers a lively programme of activities promoting healthy eating and generally saving the planet. It is being held under the patronage of Prince Albert II.
You are clearly on the same wavelength. Have there been discussions between you and Prince Albert on the subject?
Yes, we see each other often. I recently collected him from his home in the country at Mont Agel and we went together to my four-hectare organic vegetable and herb garden, which has an orchard attached to it above Roquebrune Cap Martin. First we picked tomatoes and then made fresh pasta.
What is your philosophy in life?
First of all, I am not just an organic chef, I am organic! With my heart and soul too. My maxim for life is: respect nature and you respect yourself. For me, it is almost sacrilege to chop up vegetables, so I leave them pretty much intact and use plenty of raw produce.
What does being certified organic mean to you on a day-to-day basis?
I must be able to present an organic certificate for each individual ingredient, every product. Be it for the 158 ingredients we use in the kitchen, the 33 vineyards from where we select our wines or the 22 farmers who supply our vegetables, fruit and olive oil. All are local and regional products, from Albenga in Italy to Saint-Jeannet in France. Also, our meat and fish must meet a whole list of criteria. We bake organic bread twice a day – a crazy undertaking for my 75 colleagues, but we are all passionate about it down to the last detail! Our motto: excellence and no compromises – or not at all.
As far as fish is concerned, I believe you have something new to report?
Yes, we have recently signed an exclusive partnership with Monaco’s one remaining fisherman, Eric Rinaldi. Only he offers locally caught fish. We also work with 24 Ligurian fishermen.
What has influenced you in your career?
I once visited a monastery on an island between Korea and Japan. The biological age of the monks was 30 years fewer than their real age. Everything they did was guided by love and respect. The love with which they treated the earth was given back to them by nature. It went far beyond healthy eating. I found everything that is important to me in that place.