Behind the scenes of the first Maison de Champagne, guest of Identità Golose 2021 in Milan. In a conversation with Ruinart resident chef Valérie Radou to know what’s behind her menu choices
The heritage of Maison Ruinart
In the north of France, near Belgium, there’s the Champagne region. In its capital Reims, they cultivate the homonym wine. The first bottle was produced in 1729, thanks to Nicolas Ruinart. He was inspired by his uncle Thierry Ruinart, a Benedictine friar who during his studies in Paris discovered the kind of wine that would be called Champagne.
House Ruinart was founded in 1729 also because before 1728 the French state did not authorize the transport of wine in bottles. Prior to an edict by Louis XV, wine could be transported only in barrels. Thus inhibiting the champagne marketing far from Reims and its region. «Ruinart was born in the Age of Enlightenment, a time of exchange and sharing. We have been perpetuating this art of living ever since», says Valérie Radou, the Maison Chef since 2018.
«Gastronomy is inseparable from this state of mind, but also an ally in the tasting of our wines» continues the Chef, addressing the roots of the concept that sustains the Maison. Radou started to collaborate with Ruinart as the house chef, to then being asked in 2018 to collaborate on a permanent basis and to become a resident chef.
Valérie Radou designing meals at House Ruinart in Reims
«I work with the Maison permanently to welcome guests and the clientele as well as create recipes that will pair with the different cuvées». Recipes vary with the season, and they’re thought for the kind of guests that come to eat in Reims. «The clientele we receive is made up of guests of the house, journalists, sommeliers, restaurateurs, clients, and neophytes who want to discover the place».
Is for them that Radou spends her time, designing meals for those in France and the ones around the world, testing with the oenological team to determine the matches between the cuvées and the dishes. Being a resident chef, Radou works at the Maison from morning to evening.
«I arrive in the morning after choosing my products from selected, mostly local, suppliers and start preparing the planned lunches and dinners. The day can also be punctuated by moments in our vegetable garden, where I grow aromatic herbs that match well with our wines, but also meetings with the oenological or marketing teams to imagine the gastronomic aspects of the tastings of our wines».
Lampoon review: seasonality and circularity at Maison Ruinart
The hospitality team informs Radou about the clients they receive, their expectations, and the experience the Maison staff want to share with them. Also, the experience and wine teams, and their representatives in different countries, work together on culinary associations and the communication of Ruinart’s vision on gastronomy.
«To participate in a culinary experience while tasting Ruinart champagne is to taste know-hows that complement each other and share the same values». For the chef, gastronomy is a discipline that has the responsibility to inspire who approaches it, revealing the imprint that belongs to a region, a climate, or a season, and not to another.
When Radou has to think about the menus, she chooses the raw materials from local suppliers or relies on the on-site vegetable garden of the Maison. «There, we grow mainly aromatic plants and some vegetables that are easy to grow because of the weather conditions in our region». Seasonality is a key point in Radou’s cuisine, who asked to have her spot to have the right vegetables at hand.
Permaculture vegetable garden
«We only own vineyards to grow our vines and harvest the grapes that will be used to make our vintages. And since last summer, I have had a small permaculture vegetable garden right behind my farm. I grow seasonal vegetables and fruits, notably tomatoes and strawberries in the summer, but also aromatic herbs». To enhance the circular economy, Radou and the Maison have made a partnership with Too Good To Go, the mobile application that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have unsold food surplus.
«We don’t want to throw away our surplus food for example. Of course, the same philosophy can be found in the pilot project of vitiforestry that we are currently carrying out in our historic vineyard of Taissy, in favor of biodiversity, or in the disruptive innovation, which aims to fundamentally rethink our relationship with nature».
The Maison’s champagnes selection
Maison Ruinart has been through many ups and downs, including the world wars. For this reason, some cuvées that had been a premium choice in the past, have been lost or destroyed. «However» points out Radou, «after several years of research; our cellar master managed to find a bottle of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 1959. This is to say the first vintage of this cuvée which is so essential for us, from a collector point of view. We have never opened it but it is one of our most precious bottles, symbolically above all».
Still, at events are served champagnes of thirty or forty years. From the Eighties and Nineties, and it’s a custom of the Maison to serve a ‘mystery wine’ with a renown cheese from Reims. The Chaource, when they receive sommeliers or guests that have booked for a Ruinart experience.
Talking about the vineyards, and the wines that she prefers, Radou addresses their color palette, besides their olfactory notes. «I like the Blanc de Blancs and the rosé for their freshness. Associating them with starters or desserts. I don’t work in the same way. For the Rosé, the association of a color is essential». What Radou describes, is an experience that has to involve the five senses. Thus to be comprehended: «one tastes with the eyes before the other senses».
Maison Ruinart bottles selection
Going on with the description of this Rosé, she says that is «a singular cuvée with character. It’s an astonishing blend of forty to fifty vintages; combining the freshness of the chardonnay with the fruitiness of the pinot noir. As a consequence the result is a versatile and structured rosé. Thus characterized by notes of exotic fruits and a delicate gustatory perception in the mouth».
About the other cuvée, the Blanc de Blancs. «is the emblematic aromatic freshness of the Maison and embodies that simplicity that our cellar master searches for. Both visionary in its elaboration, and singular in its tasting. This blend contains twenty-five to thirty carefully selected chardonnay vintages. Therefore it offers a fruity taste experience with citrus notes and a silky, enveloping texture».
In addition, there are three cuvées that Maison Ruinart releases in bottles. Their shape has been inherited from the 18th century. The first one is Ruinart Rosé. For instance it wants to celebrate the first champagne rosé ever made. Designed by the Maison in 1764 and then called œil de perdrix. The second one, the Blanc de Blancs, comes in a clear glass bottle. Thus it wants to celebrate chardonnay, one of the varieties symbol of the Maison. The last one, is a Brut Millésimé, a champagne brut that comes in a green glass bottle.
Maison Ruinart resident chef at Identità Golose 2021 in Milan
Being Valérie Radou a resident chef, it was an exception to her presence during Identità Golose 2021 in Milan. For once, she was outside Reims and France, hence with her came the petit R experience. «It is an immersive dinner to discover the world of the Maison. Consequently I had the pleasure of coming to meet our guests in their homes; instead of having them in our homes».
During lunch or dinner, guests got to discover all the Maison vintages, including the ‘mystery wine’. Also for the Milan menu, Radou looked after seasonality and localness, adapting combinations and recipes. «I bring relevance to the seasonal products for their full maturity. Therefore I will work them differently according to the type of champagne that we will serve», Valérie Radou recalls.
One of the recipes that she enjoyed preparing for the Milan event, was Bertrand Mure’s turbot. «A recipe that I loved to taste and share». It was invented in the Sixties by the wife of Bertrand Mure. The last descendant of the Ruinart family to have run the house.
«This recipe has a special meaning in the history of the House. Mure was the one who opened the way for Chardonnay and launched the Dom Ruinart cuvée. His wife served him this fish recipe with a champagne sauce, to highlight the chardonnay, and it was a success». In Radou’s proposals, in Reims and in Milan, history and seasonality play a trait-d-union between Maison Ruinart and its guests; putting the five senses at the center of the experience.
Ruinart’s resident chef since 2018. Graduate in the hospitality trade and with several years’ experience, Valérie Radou began a home catering business. Radou started to collaborate with Ruinart in the position of house chef. Then they asked her 2018 to collaborate on a permanent basis and to become a resident chef.