In Paris, the restaurant everyone is talking about is Baieta, chef Julia Sedefdjian’s new table in the Latin Quarter. What’s made this charming place such a hit since it opened several months ago is the poignant succulence of this 23-year-old chef’s very personal take on the cooking of her native Nice.
In Niçois dialect, a baieta is a little kiss, so the name of this restaurant was well-chosen, because Sedefdjian’s cooking style is so sincere, fresh, intense and fragile.
“I love the traditional cooking of Nice,” says the chef. “But I wanted to make it modern in a respectful and logical way. For example, we have beautiful vegetables and seafood in the South, but they often lose their personality by being cooked too long. So I’ve reduced cooking times, I rarely fry anything – I’d rather use olive oil as a condiment – and I strive to cook dishes that are also light and healthy.”
Sedefdjian has the talent to accomplish her goals, too, since she’s been cooking since she was 17, became head chef of the excellent Les Fables de la Fontaine, a seafood restaurant in the 7th arrondissement, when she was only 21 and won her first Michelin star at 23. She created her restaurant with Sébastien Jean-Joseph and Grégory Anelka, whom she met while working at Les Fables de la Fontaine. Jean-Joseph is her sous-chef, while the amiable Anelka runs the dining room. Sedefdjian calls them “my brothers”, and the three of them are depicted in a drawing by their favourite tattoo artist on the dining room wall. This offbeat decorative element cues their intentions here too – they wanted to create a restaurant that’s relaxed, friendly and a good time – and they have succeeded.
Dining here with a friend, we began with several hors d’oeuvre that invite you to take a first measure of your meal – it will be an experience of what’s often described as the “cuisine of the sun”, or the south of France. These included Sedefdjian’s riff on pissaladière, the sautéed onion, black olive and anchovy tart of Nice, which was delicious.
Next we sampled two signature dishes: the Jaune d’oeuf croustillant – an egg yolk in a crispy breadcrumb sphere on a bed of raw and smoked haddock – as a starter; and the Bouillabaieta, Sedefdjian’s version of bouillabaisse, along with caramelised pork belly with celeriac purée, peanuts and a herby green sauce, and cod with cockles on a bed of Sardinian fregola pasta with artichokes and olives under a foam of preserved garlic.
All of them were stunning but it was the Bouillabaieta that was the standout. Sedefdjian has deconstructed a classic bouillabaisse and put it back together again in such a way that all the flavours of the ingredients – rockfish, baby squid, potatoes and a potato purée-enriched fish stock – remained vivid and recognisable, as opposed to the single muddled taste of the traditional dish. “Julia cooks the seafood apart from the sauce,” Grégory Anelka explained to us. “She doesn’t want the fish to lose its natural flavours, so this dish is a composition rather than a stew.”
Desserts were excellent, too, including a fennel sablé with dots of lemon cream and meringue, and a poached pear with chestnut ice cream and chestnut coulis. My only disappointment here was that there weren’t more great southern French bottles on the wine list. Otherwise, it would seem that I have a new favourite on the Left Bank.
5 rue de Pontoise, Paris 5th. Tel. +33 (0)1 42 02 59 19. Average €45. www.restaurant-baieta-paris.fr
From France Today magazine