There are many reasons why I love the Massif Central, the mountainous center of France, including the beauty of the Aubrac, the charm of Le Puy de Dôme, and the stunningly beautiful Viaduc de Millau, the soaring bridge designed by Sir Norman Foster. The newest one, however, is Chez Camillou, an almost shockingly good restaurant in tiny Aumont-Aubrac (population 1000). Recommended to me by an elegant saleswoman in a shop in nearby Millau, the glovemaking capital of France, Camillou is an imposing gray stone hotel-restaurant, but the interior is a surprise, with sleek ivory decor as stylish as anything in New York or London.
The decor, of course, wasn’t what interested me, and in fact it even worried me a bit (was that the reason the saleswoman had sent me here?) until my first course arrived—a coddled egg with a warm emerald-green sauce of nettles and crumbly cheese biscuits. Rustic but also discreetly sophisticated, it was delicious, as was the grilled foie gras in a sublime sauce of pureed quince; “pasta” (long, lightly poached ribbons of celery root) with wild mushrooms and country ham; a tender saddle of rabbit with a side dish of aligot (potatoes whipped with garlic and cheese curd); and an excellent chocolate mousse with fresh berries. I could hardly believe my good luck, and the lunch menu was only €25. Thirty-four-year-old chef Cyril Attrazic is the third generation of his family to cook in the same kitchen; after the meal, when I marveled at the way he managed to create a modern menu that was still deeply rooted in his terroir, he replied, “Good cuisine is signed by both the chef and his region.” A pretty fair definition of the best of modern French cooking.
10 route de Languedoc, Aumont-Aubrac, 04.66.42.86.14. Lunch menu €25 per person without wine
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of France Today