Chef Alexandre Couillon has a name that he himself admits “is not easy to carry”.
But the man, whose surname translates as “idiot”, was named yesterday as France’s cook of the year, having turned his family’s humble moules frites joint into one of the country’s best seafood restaurants.
His triumph is all the more remarkable because the restaurant is at the furthest end of the unpretentious island of Noirmoutier, southwest of Nantes, a favourite for bucket-andspade family holidays.
The chef, 40, who featured on the Emmy-winning Netflix show Chef’s Table last month, has built a worldwide reputation for the simple but ingenious way he cooks ingredients from his garden and the little fishing port of L’Herbaudiere which his eatery overlooks.
The first year he and his wife Celine took over the restaurant La Marine, “we didn’t have a single customer one night in July”, Couillon said.
“You don’t come here by accident. Now we have people coming 800km for dinner.
“It’s amazing . . . we have five or six e-mails from abroad every day to book tables next year,” the fisherman’s son said.
Dishes like black oyster poached in Colonnata lard with squid, sardine crackers and cauliflower ice cream, and equally creative desserts using seaweed won over the judges from the Gault and Millau guide – second only to Michelin.
Couillon, who has two Michelin stars, said they had started with nothing, and insisted that success had not changed him.