Chef at La Palme d'Or is a star to the stars

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Christian Sinicropi (Getty)
 
CANNES -- Chef Christian Sinicropi wears a bright green chef's outfit unlike the traditionally white standard outfit worn by most French chefs. The color is quite fitting for the vibrant, vivid dishes that come out of his La Palme d'Or kitchen, and the untraditional, unaffected man cooking them. In fact, Sinicropi's two Michelin stars are the only thing pretentious about him.

On a typical night in the kitchen, Sinicropi remains calm, but, per the reputation of French chefs, becomes ill-tempered when the food isn't perfect.

He yells to one of his sous-chefs "Why haven't you started on the lamb? Two lambs ASAP!"

Walking downstairs from the sleek restaurant overlooking the Croisette to Sinicropi's kitchen, one is greeted by an aroma of strong cheeses with a sugary hint thanks to a long table on wheels, topped with le fromage in all its fine forms.

The hands-on chef is there every noon and night, lunch and dinner. Sinicropi estimates that there are only around 10 days in a given year that he's not in his kitchen. The restaurant is closed Sunday-Tuesday but open every night during the Festival.

Has the global financial crisis kept diners away from the nearly 100-euro appetizers on offer? "Of course, we felt the financial crisis, but it didn't have the same impact as in other industries."

The kitchen has become a sort of concerto of cacophonous clanking of pots and pans, the occasional "Oui chef!" and a lot of "merde putain's!

Yet, despite the clatter, when one stops to listen and breathe in the delectable aroma circulating through the air, the feeling is quite zen. Every chef and waiter has a task, every vegetable, piece of meat and sauce is perfectly in its place. It's dissonant perfection.

"I need tranquility," Sinicropi says. "You need to take time to sit down, to absorb what's around you, to think, to meditate."

How does Sinicropi manage to remain zen even during the world's biggest film festival that sees high-profile clients from across the globe invade his restaurant every day and night?

"I'm happy when it starts and happy when it finishes," Sinicropi says of the Festival de Cannes, that fills his restaurant every year with VIPs.

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"For me, Cannes is festive," he says. "It's 15 days of celebration. Every year, I experience exceptional moments, I meet interesting people -- Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt, Jean Reno, Jeanne Moreau, Monica Bellucci." The Festival de Cannes jury always eats its traditional opening night meal at La Palme d'Or. This year was no different and Sinicropi designed a dinner with separate menus for the women and the men.

Sinicropi, who was born in Cannes, has been cooking at La Palme d'Or since 2001, and took over as executive chef in 2007 of the Hotel Martinez kitchens. He trained in local restaurants after receiving his vocational certificate from the CAP in 1989. Sinicropi worked briefly in the Martinez, before joining La Cote (Michelin-starred restaurant in the Carlton, that closed in 1995). In 1993, Sinicropi moved to the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, then moved back to Cannes to work at another Michelin-starred restaurant, La Belle Otero, and at the three-starred Le Buerehiesel. A year later, he became fish chef at Alain Ducasse's three-star Le Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris in Monaco.

While his status may have changed, Sinicropi doesn't feel his cooking has. "When you evolve, you don't change. It's the way other people look at you that changes," he says.

Sinicropi is also supported by a team that includes floor manager Philippe Caillouet, winner of the 2004 Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition, and sommelier Andre Toscano.

Sinicropi designs all of the restaurant's dishes then complements the designs with his own culinary artistry to create a marriage between plate and food as pleasing to the eye as it is to the stomach.

So is there anything Chef Sinicropi won't eat?

"Brains. Guts. Intestines. Veal liver. Hare. But I like everything else."

His favorite foods include: "Sea urchins, that I grill myself. Oysters. And good poultry. Above all, the dishes my wife cooks." Sinicropi's wife was trained at the Cordon Bleu. The two met in a Chateau in a story that sounds straight out of a fairy tale. "I was hunting gazelles. She was working there, in the chateau." They have a daughter, age 14. "Yes, she is a gourmande."

Sinicropi uses mostly local produce, but doesn't obsess over the now-ubiquitous "organic" label sweeping the nation.

"For me, 'organic' doesn't exist. We have a tendency to put labels on things that don't need labels. What is 'organic'? It's an extreme. It means no chemicals, a product that is respected, is in season and comes from the earth." He adds: "I have a house with a 500 square-meter garden. My wife planted the grains and we'll collect the produce. It's natural. Is it 'organic'? It's not a question of 'organic' or not organic. It's in season, there are no chemicals, we plant everything ourselves. It's natural."

What about demanding clients? Or picky eaters?

"I'll adapt the menu based on a guest's allergies," he says, but, "When one comes to a restaurant, it's not to transform, it's to discover. Yes, I'll put the sauce on the side, but after that, it's crossing a thin line toward disrespect."

Yet thanks to Sinicropi's provencal cooking magic, even after five courses and millions of petit fours, bread and butter, one leaves feeling lighter than air. Sinicropi's culinary ballet dances on one's tongue to create an almost orgasmic, euphoric feeling, as if Sinicropi had put hallucinogenic drugs into the food.

"It can be an emotional experience if you're receptive. If you're not receptive, it will be frustrating," he says of the high most guests feel during and after the meal.

"Every mouthful is different. I don't mix foods, I associate them," Sinicropi says. "When you mix cultures together, they kill each other. When you associate them side by side, they build cathedrals."
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