Glenn Viel lives life intensely. This intensity is expressed in streamlined, minimalist dishes with powerful, persistent tastes. His life is a race against the clock, and on that race he is accompanied by a Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch from the prestigious master watchmaker Blancpain.
The Alpilles mountain range is magical: a combination of the stark beauty of southern France, the stone of its hillsides and buildings, the scent of the scrubland and the tree trunks twisted by the mistral winds. Only the traveler’s admiring eye can soften this harsh landscape. And yet this setting makes you feel alive, ready for a new experience.
In this enchanted land, and more precisely here at the foot of Les Baux-de-Provence, in Val d’Enfer — a foreboding name inspired by the shape of the hillsides looking down on the valley — L’Oustau de Baumanière was established following World War II. With it, a new form of hospitality was born, far from the bustle of cities and major thoroughfares. Baumanière is the same age as Jean-André Charial, the maître d’hotel. His grandfather founded this establishment, and he now carries that torch forward in time.
Jean-André’s experience has taught him that success is often found where innovation collides beautifully with tradition. With that in mind, he entrusted the kitchen to a young chef, Glenn Viel, in 2015. Over the years, the chef and the maître d’hotel have progressively become in sync with each other – each able to stimulate the other creatively, encouraging one another ever-upwards, culminating in 2020 when Glenn became the youngest three-star chef in France.
“Innovation is our tradition” is also one of the fundamental guidelines of Blancpain, master watchmakers since 1735. It is no coincidence that Glenn is the new Friend of the prestigious watchmaker. It is easy to draw a parallel between haute horlogerie and haute cuisine. Both share an attachment to excellence in craftsmanship, a devotion to first-rate ingredients, an appreciation for terroir, the passage of time, and traditions passed down the generations. These treasured principles firmly unite Glenn Viel and Blancpain.
Close-knit and complementary, Glenn and Jean-André are now launching into new endeavors that showcase craftsmanship. Three workshops — bakery, pottery and chocolate-making — are set to open on the estate, in addition to further developments in the kitchen garden that supplies vegetables and inspiration to Glenn’s cuisine.
Following the chef into the vegetable patch, we discover a less obvious side of his personality. He shows a passion and curiosity for communing with nature to the rhythm of plants. He asserts the need for time to learn about, and understand, the pace of that life. He is well aware that a kitchen garden marches to its own drumbeat, with a growth that appears random because it depends on thousands of factors; and that harvest time can only come at the precise moment when the vegetables are ready to give the best of themselves.
The green pea, grown on the estate for 50 years, is the signature vegetable of L’Oustau. The progeny of just the right soil, showered with attention and gathered just at the right time thanks to five daily passages through the rows — as is the tradition in the “nobly-rotted” grapevines of Sauternes — this green pea is a gourmet treat. Glenn prepares it raw, simply seasoned with a dash of olive oil and mint. It shares a plate with Schrenckii caviar. This symbolic dish emphasizes the natural essence of contemporary gourmet cookery: the exceptional product and the product of exception.
During our two days with Glenn, we are impressed by how he manages time, and how he adapts so well to each moment of the day. Contemplative in the garden; attentive to his team, for whom the third star is a source of profound satisfaction; quick and agile when serving time comes; friendly when encountering customers; ready to embark upon an adventure such as Top Chef; and eager to defend the small amount of free time that remains.
The kitchen garden; the two pigs raised on the estate; the wheat grown here that will be used to make bread for the restaurant; the beehives hosted here for Olivier Darné; the care taken to avoid waste and reuse scraps: Glenn’s sustainable commitment is clear and pronounced. But you really grasp the depth of that commitment when he goes into the time that it will take to set it all up, to learn the other professions he has introduced. Though his cuisine is intense, immediate and energetic, the chef understands that other times require a change of pace: one that lasts the long-term, the full duration. He might just have picked up a taste for that from being around Jean-André.
We’ll conclude with another innovation. This year, for the first time in the history of the house, L’Oustau will remain closed two days a week, even in the high season. The loss of earnings for the establishment will be significant, and a few clients will surely be disappointed, but it is a fair acknowledgment of the needs of the chef’s brigade, and particularly their need to balance professional time with their personal lives. It is an admirable approach to the future of the profession and to development that will be sustainable, even in social terms. Great innovations often lead to traditions, as we mentioned...
Glenn Viel wears the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatique watch.
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