Chef Thierry Seychelles waits for us outside of his restaurant, Roscanvec, early Saturday morning. It is market day in Vannes. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, and friends drag their carts on wheels to the center of the old village. They wait in line at their favorite producers for just-picked lettuce and rustic pints of organic raspberries. Thierry, gentle and soft-spoken, needs a few items for lunch service. He is a gracious guide as we tag along on his Saturday trip to the market. We snap photos on his heels as we meander through the tables, trying not to knock down pints of strawberries as we hurry to keep up.
Thierry says hello to a very old, hunched over woman standing behind her long table of farm vegetables. She is surrounded by crates and radishes and the like, and she seems like the gruff type, literally not afraid to get her hands dirty, type. Thierry tells us that a chef can tell a true purveyor from a mere truck-loader-and-unloader; ‘The proof is under their fingernails. In this test, dirt is good; dirt means they were gathering on their farm this morning.’ I suppose…
It is a curious thing to watch a Michelin-starred chef hand-pick his ingredients. I try to guess which bunch of delicate greens he will choose; if I am right then maybe I have the keen eye of a professional chef; if I am wrong, then what do I know? Thierry looks out for exceptional, seasonal choices. He finds a red pepper that is lovingly misshapen and with a scent sweeter than the flower bins at the table next door. He has maybe three ingredients in his bag at the end of our tour. Clearly this is a delicate chef; a man who is looking for the final details, le petit seasonal touches that will make une grand difference.
After a walk through the massive seafood market, Thierry returns to his restaurant to begin lunch prep. I indulge in endless ‘samples’ at the marche (including five too many kouign amann), and I am quite full by the time we sit down for lunch at Roscanvec a few hours later. Chic diners, both local French and visiting Italians, are already halfway through their first courses in the intimate, two-level restaurant on one of the town’s picturesque cobble-stoned streets. The downstairs room feels like a cozy sitting room. Tables are adorned with white tablecloths and beautiful cutlery. We are treated to more amuse bouches than I can count, and we taste Thierry’s creations made complete by his finds at the market that morning. The small bowl of porcini mushrooms, photo above, is enough to do me in. I rate it as one of the top ten dishes in my eating career thus far; the stock is divine with a perfectly balanced consistency- none too thick, none too thin. The chive flowers are an example of Thierry’s delicate hand and his proclivity to subtle hints of beauty. The red pepper sorbet atop the rich chocolate dessert was created just that morning; it is a test recipe made with the sweet red pepper he bought at the marche, and it is strangely sweet and fruity. He has a natural finesse so rarely found in the culinary world today. Each artful dish in the succession of the meal further exemplifies Thierry’s virtuosity, and one can only hope that in touristy Vannes, visitors appreciate his thoughtfulness as much as his loyal fans and his exquisitely trained staff.