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Antoine Heerah: Looking for the mauritian umami

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In Le Chamarré, his restaurant in the heart of Paris, Antoine Heerah continues his journey, never forgetting his island birthplace. On the menu: generosity, and a festival of flavours, colours and cultures. Portrait of a passionate man.

Over a savvy composition of the beautiful Obsiblue prawn, Bluefin tuna, salmon roe and finger lime, Antoine Heerah, owner and chef of the Chamarré-Montmartre in Paris, examines his work before answering my question: “What in this dish is Mauritian? Balance, freshness; the strength and fusion of different cultures. The prawn is from New Caledonia. It is sweet, it’s like candy from the sea. It reminds me of sea urchins. Then there’s the kaffir lime oil to add a Creole, Reunion, and Mauritian touch. There’s also slightly herbaceous note, with the contrasting acidity of the finger lime adding a beady texture. This is the spirit of Mauritius you see, right here, with its profusion of flavours, its multi-ethnicity.”

An endless journey
Antoine Heerah is like a voyager, his eyes filled with images from his incredible journeys. He yearns for far-off places, returning dazzled: Singapore, Chicago… He relates the shock of each visit. Like the fits and starts that constituted his early life. Things were not always easy for this child of Mauritius. He came to France at the age of eight, and spent a difficult childhood in social institutions. At 14 he started at the hotel school in Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, to the west of Paris, and was later admitted to the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts in Paris. After graduating, Antoine Heerah went to work in the catering company Sodexo, before creating his own catering company. Later he worked with such prestigious restaurant chefs as Bernard Loiseau, Olivier Roellinger, Fredy Girardet, and Marc Meneau, and finally moved on to Alain Passart’s in Paris. 

This was a great shock and left a solid mark on his cuisine, with the notion of strong flavours and contrasts, with passion as the main ingredient. This launched his career, as, a mere eight months after his arrival at Le Chamarré, on the Avenue de la Tour-Mauboug in 2002, he was awarded a Michelin star and scored 16/20 in the Gault & Millau guide. In 2008, he took over Edouard Carlier’s legendary restaurant, Le Beauvilliers, Rue Lamarck in Paris’s Montmartre district, and since then has continued to pursue his high standards, playing advocate for Mauritian culture with the Parisian public. “It took me some time to take on this role, to understand the codes – it is no easy task. Look at Japanese cooking – people took to it straight away. But Mauritian food is more ambivalent and must be seen from a French and Mauritian point of view.”

But Antoine Heerah is one of those chefs who embrace the challenge. He loves enterprise ; he takes risks (he had as many as four restaurants in the district). In fact, he resembles his cuisine, as his dishes resemble vibrations. He is perpetually in search of what he calls the Mauritian umami. A sort of chef’s holy grail, the green ray of flavours when they fuse as if by magic, impalpably, forming “a haze of flavours, the perfect balance, that makes your mouth water just to think about it”.

And Antoine’s eyes light up as he speaks of his island that he misses so, the markets, the relaxed lifestyle, the dhal puri, those Indian flatbreads that are just hankering for a sauce. And muscovado sugar: “It’s the life-blood of my kitchen. I use it in everything, it lifts my dishes, gives them balance: it caramelises my meat, I use it in candied fruits, citrus fruit marmalades, and cordials. It has the perfect mineral taste.”

And thus we realise that Antoine Heerah’s cuisine is an endless journey, a constant quest for renewal. that leaves him quite restless. To the absolute delight of his guests!

by François Simon
Photographs Claude Weber