Alice Waters met Lulu Peyraud in Provence in the mid-'70s when Richard Olney, Alice’s mentor and author of the classics tomes Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook, brought her to Domaine Tempier for lunch. Alice was seated next to Lucien, Lulu’s husband and Domaine Tempier’s vigneron. Their son François had just retrieved sea urchins from the floor of Mediterranean. Lucien took one, sliced through its prickly black crust, plucked the sweet saffron roe with a spoon, buttered a piece of rye bread and made Alice an exquisite sandwich to nibble as she sipped his celebrated Bandol rosé. Alice remembers Lulu looking on knowingly as Domaine Tempier revealed itself to be the muse for all that she was trying to accomplish at Chez Panisse, her then new restaurant in Berkeley, California. Alice wrote in the forward to Richard Olney’s Lulu’s Provencal Table, “Like them (the Peyrauds), we try to live close to the earth, treat it with respect; always look first to the garden and vineyard for inspiration; rejoice in our families and friends; and let the food and wine speak for themselves at the table.”
Each year since eating the sea urchin sandwich, Alice has made a pilgrimage to the Peyraud’s home in Bandol, a port town half way between Marseilles and Toulon, a natural amphitheater of terraced hillsides planted with vineyards, olive trees, and fruit orchards. She drives down the majestic alley of plane trees, comes upon a courtyard covered with a large arbor and blue gates leading to a stunning expanse of parasol pines and hills planted with Mourvedre, the aristocratic local grape variety.
“I walk through the vineyard in the morning. When I come back, Lulu and I go to the market together, then have lunch outside with the family. After lunch we break for siesta or go to the beach. We usually have a light dinner—soup and a wild mushroom omelet, or something left over from lunch that she makes in a different way.”
Lulu and Lucien had seven children—Fleurine, Jean-Marie, François, Marion, Colette, Laurence, Véronique—between 1938 and 1956, the first four before Domaine Tempier had electricity, plumbing, or telephone service. During this period the vineyard evolved from a fruit orchard to one of the first Bandol AOCs, the Germans occupied Provence, the Peyrauds housed French sailors fearful of becoming prisoners of war, Lucien became the president of the association of Bandol winemakers and peace came.
In addition to their natural born enfants, Lulu and Lucien adopted a host of others, many of whom went on to become the mothers and fathers of the modern American food movement, bringing us estate-bottled wines and farm-to-table cooking, the likes of Kermit Lynch, Gerald Asher, Paula Wolfert, and Alice Waters.
When Alice describes Lulu Peyraud’s cooking her voice lilts: “Lulu’s whole fish is something of another dimension, always cooked in the fire and served with aïoli. Her fish soup with all the bones strained out has a little spice, in that way of hers. She makes salads. She knows I love salads! She always has a whole array of cheeses—that’s dessert for her—and beautiful oysters. Her white peaches and nectarines chilled in red wine are ambrosia.” She recalls being revived after a particularly long trip by an afternoon nap and an open air supper of soup au pistou cooked with a lamb bone, fresh figs, cheese, and an apricot and green almond compote accompanied by rosé as fresh as mountain spring water.
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Today the winemaker Daniel Ravier is responsible for viticulture and vinification at Domaine Tempier. He does not stray far from the methods employed by Lucien and Francois Peyraud before him, not for lack of imagination, but out of respect for the time-honored Domaine Tempier tradition of coaxing elegant age worthy red wines and rosés from Mourvedre.
“Mouvedre is a thick-skinned late-harvested variety with sharp tannins that often seem rustic,” he says. “At Domaine Tempier, careful attention in the vineyard and blending in the winery temper the sharpness of tannins. With time, the wines become silky and elegant. We age the wines in large foudres, not barrels, as is the custom in the south of France. As the tannins soften, the wines remain lively in the mouth. I have reds from 1982 that are still very young and vibrant.”
As for the rosé he says, “Making rosé is easy, but making good rosé is very difficult. We use the same grapes as we use for the reds—50 percent Mourvedre along with Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah—but with different techniques. Mourvedre gives Domaine Tempier’s rosé structure and aging capacity. For the first two years, the rosé tastes fresh. After that, for three to six years, the wine is less interesting: it loses structure and flavor, the fruit is thin. Then it comes back without the bitterness. It is more like a sweet wine with hints of dried apricots, grapefruit pith, cypress, and lemons. After ten years it gets really interesting. I just tasted a rose from 1974 that was very good!”
Lulu’s cooking reflects the values of Domaine Tempier’s vineyards and cellar. Her attention to detail and careful handling of ingredients elevates her preparations far above ones bearing the same name in Provencal cookbooks and restaurants: sweet onions cook over low heat for an hour for the pissalderi; roasted peppers marinate in their own juices; baby octopus is frozen and then defrosted in the refrigerator to ensure a tender preparation.
“What’s astonishing is her effortlessness,” says Alice. “She’s always present at the table, whether she is serving three or twenty. She never asks ‘Is this hot enough? Is this right?’ I believe her early struggle during the war gives her this ease. I have never seen her without a smile, even her wrinkles make it seem as if she is smiling.”
It seems that, for Lulu, cooking, caring for her family, caring for the land of Bandol and celebrating the wines of Domaine Tempier are all threads in one tapestry. As a young mother, she traveled three days a week placing Domaine Tempier on restaurant lists throughout France. Later, when Lucien became a board member of INAO, the organization that regulates French agricultural products, she traveled with him to a different country each year during the grape harvest. When cooking for her family, Lulu was often entertaining guests. “It was an open table in those days,” says Daniel Ravier. Her philosophy was, “We don’t have much, but we can share.”
“She embodies the hospitality that goes with the food. She has a cultural sophistication, embracing people from the most rarefied backgrounds and neighbors next door who happen by the Domaine. She learns so much from them,” Alice says. “And she has a real personal aesthetic. If you took all her things she wears and laid them out—the sweater, the earrings, the scarf, the shoes with little heals—you wouldn’t believe it goes together. It always does.”
At 93, fifteen years after Lucien passed away, Lulu lives independently. She goes out first thing in the morning and brings in wood to make a fire in the kitchen. She swims every day from May to October. She takes care of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She does not drink water, only red wine from Domaine Tempier, Champagne, and a thermos of tisane before bed.
While one can still visit Domaine Tempier for a tasting, the era of grand entertaining around an open table has come to an end. Yet if you find a copy of Lulu’s Provencal Kitchen, you’ll know that in early August the grapes are full-grown and beginning to ripen and vineyard workers are out in the field at the crack of dawn, green harvesting and protecting the grape bunches from the sun. If you delve deeper, you’ll experience what it is like to drink rosé while cooking mussels open-faced on the grill; crush garlic for aïoli in a mortar and pestle; grill whole fish over hot coals; and make compote out of fresh apricots. Perhaps you’ll set a table for your friends on the terrace on a summer night. If you find any of this to be daunting, begin with In the Green Kitchen, Alice Waters’ new star-studded primer on all the techniques you need to know to begin to cook like Lulu Peyraud.
Tapenade on croutons is one of Domaine Tempier’s trademark appetizers. Lulu also uses tapenade to stuff a boned leg of lamb and to accompany grilled fish and roasts.
1/2 lb Large Greek-style olives, pitted
2 Salted anchovies, rinsed and filleted, or 4 fillets
3 tbsp Capers
1 clove Garlic, peeled and pounded to a to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt
Small pinch Cayenne
1 tsp Tender young savory leaves, finely chopped, or a pinch of crumbled dried savory leaves
4 tbsp Olive oil
In a food processor, reduce the olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, cayenne, and savory to a coarse purée. Add the olive oil and process only until the mixture is homogenous—a couple of rapid whirs.
Piments Doux au Gril
This recipe is a perfect example of simple techniques transforming an ordinary dish into an otherworldly experience.
6 Large, fleshy sweet peppers (2 each red, yellow, and green)
Arrange the peppers, not touching, on a grill, preheated over wood coals, or a on a foil-lined baking tray (under the broiler). Grill, turning the peppers at regular intervals, until the skins are unevenly charred and blistered on all surfaces—20 minutes, more or less, depending on your method of grilling. Transfer the peppers to a platter and enclose it in a large plastic bag, tucking in the opening beneath the platter to prevent the escape of steam. Leave until the peppers are cool enough to handle—the steam trapped in the plastic bag will have loosened the skins so that they can easily be slipped free. Pull off and discard the skins. Pull out and discard the stem and core. Pull the peppers apart, lengthwise, into halves or large sections, collecting the juices in the platter. Remove and discard all clinging seeds and stack the pepper sections on a plate. Pass the juices through a sieve into a bowl to remove the seeds. On a flat surface, slice the pepper section, lengthwise, into narrow strips, arrange them decoratively on a platter, pour over their juices, and dribble olive oil over the surface.
Grilled Fish with Two Sauces
Sar á la Brasie, Tapenade et Tomates Confites
A 4-pound fish should be grilled 6-inches away from the heat for about 15 minutes on each side, turning two or three times. Don’t worry if the scales are charred. They protect the flesh from the heat, allowing the fish to steam in its own moisture. If you prefer, the tomato sauce can be prepared a day in advance, but the anchovy fillets should be added only at the last minute.
1 4-pound porgy, red snapper, etc. gutted, gills removed but unscaled
3 tbsp Olive oil
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
4 Garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 lb Tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into pieces, and salted in a colander for 1 hour
3 Salted anchovies, rinsed and filleted, or 6 fillets
1/2 tsp Fennel seeds, pounded to powder in a mortar
Prepare the bed of coals and put the fish to the grill.
In a wide heavy frying pan, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the onions and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until softened but uncolored. Uncover, raise the heat, add the tomatoes, and sauté, shaking the pan regularly and tossing the tomatoes, until their liquid has disappeared and they form a roughly textured sauce.
Put the remaining tablespoon of olive oil into a small pan. Lay in the anchovy fillets, and place over very low heat until they melt, falling apart when the pan is shaken. Taste the tomato sauce for salt, grind over pepper, add the powdered fennel and stir in the melted anchovies.
Serve the grilled fish accompanied by the two sauces. After lifting off and discarding the top surface of scales and skin, cut with a knife tip the length of the lateral line and lift the fillets from the bone with a spatula. Lift the bone and the head free from the fillets on the underside, separate them along the lateral line, push the fin bones aside, and lift away the fillets. Don’t forget to serve the cheeks to two lucky guests!
The following recipes are reprinted with permission from Lulu’s Provencal Table by Richard Olney, copyright © 1994, 2002. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Sophie Helene Menin writes about food and wine, sense of place and the pleasures of the table. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Departures and Saveur, among other publications. She lives in New York City.