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A Provencale Bouillabaisse

– by Terry Robards

Chef Raymond Viale is called the King of Bouillabaisse for good reason. The fish stew that he served for a picnic at a winery in Provence was superb, and watching him prepare it was a seafare cooking lesson.

The secret is in the timing, so that none of the ingredients become overcooked. Each ingredient requires different timing, and Chef Raymond orchestrated the feast like a maestro. The potatoes went into the bouillon early, along with the saffron, tomatoes, garlic and rosemary. The largest fish and the octopus then went into the broth, followed toward the very end by the smallest fish and the langoustines.

There is no set recipe for a bouillabaisse, which means a chef can be very creative. The one ingredient said to validate any bouillabaisse, however, is said to the rascasse, or hog-fish. On this occasion, the racasses were added to the broth late in the cooking.

Chef Raymond removed the fish from the bouillon at just the right moments and served them on large. absorbent, concave cork platters, so that the fish would not slip around during service. The picnickers then dumped the fish into their own bowls, followed by the broth served separately from cauldrons. Last but not least came the rouille, the spicy, garlicky mayonnaise rust colored from paprika.

On this day we were a large group of winemakers and their guests, dining under the sun at Domaine Saint-Andre de Figuiere, a leading Provencal winery. Tables were set up on a backyard terrace, and the bouillabaisse was cooked over barbecue pits. There were numerous Provencal wines to taste, and the occasion confirmed that the dry roses of the region were the ideal wines to accompany the bouillabaisse.

Alain Combard, the Saint-Andre winemaker, spent 20 years in the Chablis district before arriving back in Provence in 1992, when he began practicing organic farming in the Saint-Andre vineyards. The domaine lies near the Mediterranean coast at La Londe les Maures, not far from Le Lavandou, where Chef Raymond’s restaurant can be found.

Chez Raymond is at Les Tamaris, Plage de Saint-Clair, 83980 Le Lavandou, Var, on the Cote d’Azur. Te. from the U.S. 011-33-4-94-71-07-22. Fax 011-33-4-94-71-88-64.