Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

1999 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Dīner ("dee-nay", not "dye-nurr") #5: The American Pavilion Meets Roger Vergé

by Jim Byerley

Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999 is brought to you by:


If you mention eating at the American Pavilion, next to the Palais du Festival, most Cannes film festival veterans would laugh or gag. The Pavilion has long been an ideal meeting point or a spot for panel discussions, where one could also find a Los Angeles Times or confirm that flight home on Delta. No one, but no one, really went there to eat, on purpose. The menu was limited to some grotty sandwiches, so you had to be content with sipping a Coke or a Perrier on the back terrace. Go to any one of the beach-side stands and you would do better for a quick lunch or snack.

Things have changed this year. A continuing program sponsored by a Santa Barbara winery has brought to the south of France about fifteen young, eager chefs-to-be from culinary schools across the U.S.A. With the guidance of executive chef Jerry Comfort, they have redesigned the menu and prepare hundreds of breakfasts and lunches daily. The "kitchen" at the American Pavilion is little more than a storage room and was described by Comfort as something akin to a M*A*S*H unit in a tent. It is a small cramped space, without a conventional stove or serious ventilation. The menu, therefore, had to be sensitive to the myriad limitations. Included are a cheese quesadilla worthy of San Antonio, a chicken Caesar salad and an old-fashioned Waldorf salad (apple, celery, walnuts, romaine and local walnut oil). Chicken has been added to those classic ingredients to provide a more substantial dish for hungry, mogul aspirants. On the sandwich front are a Nicoise style tuna on baguette, a New York deli ham or salami with cheese and dill pickle and one that will really make you pine for home, peanut butter and jelly. To wash it all down, California Chardonnay, bien sur. The American Pavilion is ready for its Michelin inspection.

The lucky young chefs are enthusiastic about their exposure to the French experience and are appreciating some side trips into the hills surrounding Cannes. They dined at Clos St. Basile between Mougins and Valbonne. The simple menu there drew rave reviews. One young woman from Houston, Katherine Wilson, swooned when talking of meeting super chef Roger Vergé at Moulin de Mougins, as some would do after a close encounter with Leonardo di Caprio. How refreshing, and it gives me great hope for American cooking in the new millennium.

Speaking of the charismatic Monsieur Vergé, it was about time to revisit his charming spot just north of Cannes. Michelin has stripped the chef of two of his stars and he now possesses just one. The last time I ate there, some five years ago, it seemed vastly overpriced and past glories were but a memory. In the early eighties, some supreme dining experiences were to be had courtesy of chef Vergé. Then he became too famous and seemingly spent less and less time in his own kitchen. This year's visit found the grey haired charmer very much in evidence, in the garden dining room, if not in the kitchen. The crowd was heavily film festival and Mel Gibson dominated the large table next to us. From the other side, I found a fellow diner and European film type squatting behind my chair. Excusing himself, he explained that he was just plugging in his cell phone to recharge the batteries. Please ban those damned things from restaurants and theaters, now.

The amuse bouche was a marvelous sweetbreads concoction sided by a tasty, and very hearty, spinach puree. The slice of truffle-ated duck fois gras, which came next, was round, firm and fully packed. The meal was off to a great start. The fish course (sole in a sauce utilizing oriental spices) was flavorful, but far from memorable. The sweet-and-sour onions and vegetables under the fish were the best part of the dish. The chicken "cocoons" served as the main course were tender, but tended to fade from memory as one swallowed. A fellow diner had the gros pigeon which looked to be the best choice. The cheese course was rich with local chevre, but the nut bread served alongside was undistinguished and dry. It compared poorly to a fabulous raisin and walnut variety recently encountered at La Terrasse of Juan Les Pins. A crisp, locally produced Chateau Bellet rosé provided the perfect backdrop.

Desserts were presented with some bravado, but were less successful when actually tasted. The upside-down apricot tart was heavy and the white peach and sorbet parfait was overly sweet. The spun sugar dome which topped it was described by one diner as a candy yarmulke. With its strategically placed raspberry, it also resembled something Madonna might wear on a different part of her body. Petite fours were good, but standard, though the home-made chocolates served with coffee were exceptional. An herbal tea infusion turned out to be a sad tea bag in a dumpy silver pot. For a spectacular, fresh herbal infusion, get thee to Louis XV in Monte Carlo. Monsieur Vergé, it seems, still has some work to do to regain his lost stars. Maybe he should think of hiring Katherine.

Previous Installment

Back to Cannes Film Festival Diaries

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.