Four times a year, the terrace of the Saint-James in Bouliac becomes a farmers’ market unlike any other. Nicolas Magie, the Executive Chef at this hotel-restaurant designed by Jean Nouvel, welcomes the suppliers with whom he works every day.
The chef’s last name translates to “magic” and – abracadabra – he will have them all appear on his property. Beñat Moity will undoubtedly be there, arriving from Saint-Jean-de-Luz with his rustic cheeses born of summer grazing and engraved with the shepherds’ seal. Eric Guttierrez, too, will materialize, along with his sheep from La Bergerie de la Grande Chaux in Saint-Christophe-de-Double in Gironde. There will also be Pierre Duplantier and his poultry raised with love in the village of Meracq (of which he is also mayor) in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. No doubt Eric Ospital will attend, the celebrated, straight-talking Bayonne butcher with the unmistakable accent. And so many others. Thirty epicurean experts will be there, setting up their stands on the beautiful shaded terrace of the Saint-James, with breathtaking views of greater Bordeaux and the Garonne Valley.
The tenth will be hard to top
Nicolas Magie eagerly anticipates this moment four times a year. As does Marie Borgel, the upbeat, dynamic President and CEO of this sumptuous property that is a member of the Relais & Châteaux Association, with a one-Michelin-star gourmet restaurant. At the tenth marché, in which we participated in September 2018, it was a delight to see their beaming faces as they gazed upon the market crowds beneath sunny September skies. More than 1,500 people in just half a day for a farmer’s market in one of the region’s wealthiest towns. They’d put together a somewhat offbeat affair, with live music from a Spanish group, Santa Machete, with a wildly costumed crew playing a world-music mix somewhere between Latin American and African. Once the initial surprise wore off, no one could resist the bold blasts of brass and gleeful guitar riffs.
But Nicolas Magie wanted to invite the people of Bordeaux to a Sunday market, like the ones held everywhere in France. That is the logical extension of a culinary philosophy deeply rooted in the soul of this local boy, one who cut his teeth then developed his chops at La Chamade and Le Pavillon des Boulevards in Bordeaux, at Le Miramar in Biarritz, and at Le Crillon in Paris in the days of Christian Constant. At Cenon, where he at long last opened his own restaurant (that began earning Michelin stars in 2004), in a working-class neighborhood, he was already taking care to be on a first-name basis with each of his suppliers, and that meant giving pride of place to local, in-season ingredients. And that’s what he’s been doing ever since he took the reins of the Saint-James, too, in 2012, with everyone he invites to his markets, resulting in a fantastically flavorful menu.
The whole foie gras from Cyrille Biraben (yet another market devotee) is served for two, roasted in a fig leaf, with powdered mushroom concentrate, grape-juice reduction, fig carpaccio, and grilled cep mushrooms. The wild bass, killed using the Japanese ikejime method, arrives in a thick filet, roasted on the skin, with lightly seared abalone, Médoc cep mushrooms in various textures, a smoked-parsley-and-garlic condiment, and bone reduction with Sydney hybrid lime. As for Madame Leguen’s pigeon, the filets are roasted breast side down, the drumsticks are confit in pumpkin oil and toasted seeds, all accompanied by burnt cauliflower with lemon pulp, raw spring onions, and jus reduction. Inspiration aplenty for all who will leave the farmers’ market with a heaping basket and a happy heart.