The Bounty of Bourget

  • Lake views from Le Bateau Ivre.

    Lake views from Le Bateau Ivre.

  • Chef Jean-Pierre Jacob of Le Bateau Ivre.

    Chef Jean-Pierre Jacob of Le Bateau Ivre.

  • Chef Pierre Marin at Auberge Lamartine.

    Chef Pierre Marin at Auberge Lamartine.

  • Garden tables at Auberge Lamartine offer the perfect combination of chef Pierre Marin’s light, playful cooking and serene views across Lac du Bourget.

    Garden tables at Auberge Lamartine offer the perfect combination of chef Pierre Marin’s light, playful cooking and serene views across Lac du Bourget.

  • Braised rabbit à la Auberge Lamartine.

    Braised rabbit à la Auberge Lamartine.

  • Lamartine’s dining terrace.

    Lamartine’s dining terrace.

  • Overlooking the village of Le Bourget-du-Lac.

    Overlooking the village of Le Bourget-du-Lac.

  • Olivier Parpillon bringing in a catch of lavaret, a fish that appears on the menus of all four of Le Bourget-du-Lac’s Michelin-starred restaurants.

    Olivier Parpillon bringing in a catch of lavaret, a fish that appears on the menus of all four of Le Bourget-du-Lac’s Michelin-starred restaurants.

  • Atmosphères occupies a hillside chalet north of town.

    Atmosphères occupies a hillside chalet north of town.

  • Alain Perrillat-Mercerot’s seasonal ingredients-focused menus might include poached quail egg and pea puree.

    Alain Perrillat-Mercerot’s seasonal ingredients-focused menus might include poached quail egg and pea puree.

  • Perrillat-Mercerot in a nearby meadow.

    Perrillat-Mercerot in a nearby meadow.

  • Entering the village of Chanaz, at the north end of Lac du Bourget.

    Entering the village of Chanaz, at the north end of Lac du Bourget.

  • Chef Gilles Blonay.

    Chef Gilles Blonay.

  • A local vineyard.

    A local vineyard.

  • Roasted lavaret with ratte potatoes in coconut juice.

    Roasted lavaret with ratte potatoes in coconut juice.

  • On the grounds of Hôtel Ombremont.

    On the grounds of Hôtel Ombremont.

  • Fun in the sun at Bourget-du-Lac Beach.

    Fun in the sun at Bourget-du-Lac Beach.

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And then there are foodies like me, who arrive in Le Bourget-du-Lac with one overriding purpose: to eat. Though it has only 4,000 residents, the village boasts four Michelin-rated restaurants with five stars between them—that’s half as many as you’ll find in the city of Bordeaux, with a quarter of a million people. And it’s the same number claimed by Clermont-Ferrand, population 140,000, where French tire manufacture Michelin is headquartered. To put it in another context, Tokyo, the world leader for Michelin stars, has only one starred restaurant for every 120,000 people.

Clearly, there’s something special going on in Le Bourget-du-Lac. To find out what it is, I ask chef Jean-Pierre Jacob, whose two-starred dining room, La Bateau Ivre (“The Drunken Boat,” from the title of a Rimbaud poem), is attached to the Hôtel Ombremont. His answer: ingredients. “This area is terrific for cheese, meat, fish, and lots of vegetables, fruits, and herbs,” he says. “I love to work with the produce of the lake.”

According to Michelin, a two-star rating signifies “excellent cuisine, worth a detour.” As I soon find out, Jacob’s food is certainly that. His top tasting menu, the “Rimbaud,” is 10 courses of pure delectation.

In an airy dining room perched high above the lake, waiters bring me dish upon dish of delights. Standouts include smoked lavaret (a type of whitefish) with a vichyssoise cream; plump, fiery tandoori frog’s legs; a fillet of pink-tinged lamb bathed in a rose-infused jus; and creamy, house-made pine-bud ice cream.

“My aim is for a simple cuisine with a lot of taste,” Jacob tells me when I catch up with him over coffee and petits fours after my three-hour-long feast. “I like to cook something from the lake with something from the land, from these shores. That way you have harmony.”

Another chef who extols the virtues of the local larder is Alain Perrillat-Mercerot, whose Atmosphères, a chalet-style restaurant-with-rooms that he runs with his partner Delphine Pontet, snagged its Michelin starin 2009. When I meet them at their restaurant the following day, Pontet tells me the majority of their food is made from fresh, lakeside produce. “Alain doesn’t like when the food is cooked so much; his is a natural cuisine,” she says, adding that their organic fruit and vegetables are sourced from Aix-les-Bains, their wines from Savoyard vineyards, and their fish from a fisherman named Olivier Parpillon.

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