L'atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel


7 Rue des Carmes,


The modest 35-seat restaurant in Arles has no written menu and a $67 lunchtime prix fixe. Rival Gault Millau had named Rabanel, the restaurant’s previously obscure fortysomething chef, its toque of the year in 2008. Remarkably, L’Atelier was France’s first certified-organic restaurant to be inducted into the pantheon. Tucked away in the center of town, L’Atelier has a casual urban vibe and a flat-screen monitor showcasing the action in the kitchen. Although Rabanel’s cooking evokes botanist chefs like Michel Bras, in Laguiole, and Basque genius Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz, outside San Sebastián, he has a vision all his own. Call it techno-terroir—powered by his seven-acre biodynamic farm growing 100 types of heirloom fruits and vegetables. Bright explosions of flavor are what shine here: icy jolts of sugarless sorbets from vegetables at their seasonal height; the hyper-Mediterraneanism of figs roasted in black olive oil. The daily menu might feature a faux yogurt of haricots cocos loaded with spongy bits of morel mushrooms, followed by a pintade (guinea fowl) baked in a salt crust. “I welcome progress in my kitchen,” he said, “but in the end I go back to the casserole!”