At Le Pigonnet: Thierry Balligand's Provence
A haven of peace in the heart of Aix-en-Provence, Le Pigonnet has been offering guests the ultimate Provence experience since 1924. Once frequented by Paul Cézanne, Le Pigonnet brings its historic aura into the 21st century. At his table, Chef Thierry Balligand offers his version of Mediterranean cuisine. It's time to eat!
You've been running the kitchens at Hôtel Le Pigonnet for twenty years, but you're originally from the north of France. How did you come to discover Mediterranean cuisine?
T. B : I come from the land of Maroilles, from a family of farmers: I've always been involved in cooking, but until now my culinary culture had been linked to this geography and this world. I really enjoyed that! Then, thanks to my job as a chef, I was able to travel and in 1992 I arrived in Aix, falling under the spell of Le Pigonnet and, above all, Mediterranean cuisine! Paradoxically, it was a cuisine that spoke to me straight away!
Sun-drenched flavours that you've made your own and interpreted yourself. Today, you describe your cuisine as one of simplicity and conviction...
T.B : Yes, simplicity first and foremost, because I don't like to overdo it, to tamper with the product: I want courgette to keep its courgette flavour... especially when you're working with excellent produce, usually supplied by local producers with whom we've forged close links. But be warned, simplicity is sometimes the most technically complicated thing!
What about your convictions?
T.B: This link with our producers is essential and it enriches us: sometimes it's they who introduce us to new products. It's then up to us, in the restaurant, to help our guests discover products that they don't cook at home. In the same vein, I stress the importance of my team: a chef is nothing without the people who work with him every day! Finally, and of course, I make a point of respecting the seasons: our menu changes every fortnight, following the course of the months and the cycles of nature. Our menu includes such staples as calf sweetbread, but we add the products of the moment: in winter I'll serve it with a parsnip mousseline, while in spring it'll be French peas or wild garlic!
Do you have a favourite product or dish?
T.B: I love everything! What fascinates me is the change imposed by the seasons, we never have time to get bored. In that sense, my favourite dish is probably the one I'll be making tomorrow!
Speaking of change, do you feel that your cooking has evolved since you arrived at Le Pigonnet?
T.B : Absolutely, I'd go so far as to say that our cuisine evolves every day, and that's what's so interesting! Our guests' expectations are also changing: these days, there's no question of offering a dish that isn't visually appealing: people eat with their eyes first! So we offer traditional dishes, but we reappropriate them to give them their noble character. We pay a great deal of attention to the way we dress our dishes, a term that's in everyone's vocabulary these days! And then there are trends and fashions in cooking too, and we have to admit that they influence us, if only when it comes to the products we work with. Take black garlic: I discovered this product ten years ago, without much conviction. Today, I'm coming back to it and offering it with veal... and I see that it has carved out a place of choice on many menus!
In the end, what's the best compliment people can pay you when they leave your table?
T.B : The most important thing for me is that our guests have had a good time, whether in the dining room indoors or, in fine weather, on the hotel patio: the Pigonnet is a total experience. When some of our customers who are staying at the hotel come to our table and come back again - even though there are some very good addresses in Aix - it's a very positive sign!
Published on 22/11/2023