Inspiration from the big blue

My relationship with the sea

I’d been living in France for about two years before embarking on that fateful journey when I opened Restaurant JAN. Working with French ingredients – particularly flour, butter and French produce – opened my eyes to a whole new approach to cuisine. But the artist in me relished those trips to the market. At first, it was like a sensory overload being surrounded by the season’s riches. It was colour, flavour, fragrance, texture… my mind was racing. I couldn’t get enough. To this day, I draw my greatest inspiration from those market visits. My personal heritage and influences aside, the market is where I get my inspiration for that season’s menu. But there’s one relationship that I don’t talk about nearly often enough, and that is the inspiration I get from the sea.

Ambling down the Promenade des Anglais or taking a stroll around Nice’s Vieux Port or Villefranche, I sometimes have to catch my breath when the light hits the water at just the right angle, and the bright blue surface bursts into a bloom of silver. And when visiting the fishermen as they return from the deep blue, I find that silver echoed in their catch of the day. And in those moments, there’s an electricity at the docks, as chefs, foodies and serious home cooks gather round for their share of the ocean’s riches.

Indeed, living in a port city like Nice means I have access to some of the most incredible seafood, whether it hails from the Mediterranean or the coasts of Normandy or Brittany. Each trayful of creatures is like a painting or mural from another world below the surface. Like an artist choosing their colour palette, a chef is just as inspired by the colours of their ingredients as by its flavours and textures.

The shimmering silver scales of the fish I source on the docks or at the markets often remind me of precious metals or fine jewellery, and I can’t believe how that colour is completely natural. Oscar Wide once said, ‘life imitates art far more than art imitates Life’, but any artist will know that art also imitates nature. Inspiration is everywhere, as is beauty, and it’s important to look for it every day, whether it’s a fine piece of art or a freshly caught fish from the market.


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