Now celebrating its 40th anniversary in the desert, Le Vallauris has been serving an evolving menu of high quality French fare since 1973, now focusing on exquisite French Mediterranean cuisine.
Owned by Paul Bruggemans and run by his brother, Tony, who is General Manager, the restaurant has received the prestigious 4 diamond award from AAA for over 20 consecutive years. Moreover, they consistently receive Zagat’s highest score in the desert area.
Chef Jean Paul Lair has been at the restaurant since 1986 and is completely self taught. He was promoted to the position of Executive Chef after the former chef moved to the Bruggeman’s second Le St. Germain in the Indian Wells/La Quinta area. In its 40 years of existence, Le Vallauris has only had two chefs--talk about continuity and devotion!
My first opportunity to meat Chef Jean Paul was October 8th at their first cooking class of the season where a rapt audience gathered on the beautiful outside patio under a giant ficus tree canopy to have the opportunity to sample a port wine infused duck liver mousse with a chilled carrot anise soup; Belgian endive hazelnut salad with goat cheese fritters; sauteed Boston scallops atop smoked potato cream and tomato concasse; and Pastry Chef Laurant’s vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb compote and almond biscotti
Subsequent cooking classes will be every second Monday of every month through May or June at 10:30 a.m. and cost $55 per person. Additional special events will be scheduled through the 40th anniversary year celebration.
What follows are some of the highlights of my interview with Chef Jean Paul.
From where in France do you hail from and what was the cuisine like there?
I came from Vichy where spa cuisine was prevalent. Such dishes as beef or chicken with carrots often were cooked in Vichy water, which is thought to have many health benefits due to its high mineral content.
How has French cuisine changed in the 29 years you’ve been at Le Vallauris?
Well, back in the day, Le Vallauris was a coat and tie dining experience. Now it is much less formal. Initially, the dishes were much richer with lot of cream and butter. Now the food is lighter with more olive oil in the cooking and fish is a distinct focus nowadays along with grains and an assortment of vegetables. The fare is Mediterranean for the most part with some distinct Middle Eastern influences.
How would you describe your restaurant in a word and what’s your philosophy regarding food preparation?
Well, in a word: charming and if I might add one more word: serene. Philosophically, I believe that you should enjoy great pleasure when you eat my food. There’s always a surprise item (an amuse) with every dinner and some of my dishes are deconstructed into their component parts--my way of paying homage to molecular gastronomy without going too much off the deep end.
And what sets Le Vallauris apart from other restaurants in Palm Springs?
Well, it’s elegant atmosphere without being stuffy, and a quiet ambiance. It’s a bit like coming home and knowing that certain dishes will always be available.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
For me, it’s hard to choose between the Maine lobster with vanilla bean butter and the Lake Superior white fish. New items are added to the menu every Thursday.
Who had the most influence on your career as a chef?
Without question, Joel Robuchon. His food is lighter, there is less cream and less butter, but the flavors are still intense due to sauce reduction, and his creative instincts are otherworldly.
How does the menu change as you move into the winter season?
More stews appear, as well as game dishes such as guinea fowl, lamb, venison, and duck, wild mushrooms and more root vegetables such as turnips, rutabagas and parsnips.
When you go out to eat, what kind of cuisine do you prefer?
Japanese. I like the textural contrasts and the minimal amounts of cooking fats when a dish is actually cooked rather than raw, which is much more prevalent.
What makes Palm Springs like no place else?
For me, it’s a sophisticated dining clientele, a mild and sunny climate (except for July and August when we are closed), and lots of festivals and tournaments to attend in my “spare time.”
Finally, who does the cooking at home--you or your wife?
Well, I must confess, that at home I’m usually trying out new potential dishes for the restaurant for my wife to criticize. She was trained as a chef and looks at everything with a critical eye. We do share the cooking for the most part when I’m not looking to add dishes to the menu.