The question was no longer “if”, but “when”.
The Michelin guide inspectors waited precisely ten years before upgrading the restaurant from two to three stars. Fact that the Gault & Millau guide might boast that it put the big winner Michelin Guide 2023 on a pedestal at the end of 2016 with the title “Chef of the Year,” but that doesn’t matter for today. What matters today is Alexandre Couillon, 47, chef-owner of La Marine located on the island of Noirmoutier, Vendée.
It takes courage and a bit of madness to take over the family restaurant at the age of 23 and sell mussels and fish soups while finishing your Tour de France through the best restaurants in France. Back then Alexandre Couillon was either preparing duck pies with truffles and other specialties at Les Près d’Eugénie with a certain Michel Guérard, 3 stars in Landes, or he was part of a brigade that included other holy monsters of French gastronomy like Arnaud Donckele and Christopher Coutanceau. Before that, he sweated in the ovens of Georges Paineau, a forgotten chef who nevertheless gave two Michelin stars to my beloved Bretagne.
From Noirmoutier to Dakar to Noirmoutier
Alexandre Couillon grew up with his restaurant on the island of Noirmoutier. A place that was originally a café run by a lady named Elise, who according to legend, used to kick Parisians out of the place. Couillon’s parents took over the business after spending time in Africa: the father was a fisherman-mechanic and at the age of 19 followed some men who had gone fishing for shrimp on the Senegalese coast. The son’s passport shows Dakar as his birthplace. But the father’s family was originally from Noirmoutier and the couple missed home very much, so they decided to return to their homeland by turning the cafe into a seasonal restaurant with homemade food.
Radio Alouette and menu for 18,50 euros
After some work, Alexandre Couillon replaced his parents, with his wife Céline in the salon welcoming customers, in 1999. One can imagine the successful summers and difficult periods. Doubt was creeping in because the anonymity lasted almost 5 years. A Bib Gourmand arrives in 2002, but it will take three more years for a glowing article in Le Point newspaper to heat up the business and two more years to see a Michelin star shining in Alexandre Couillon’s Restaurant La Marinha. The Chef says he heard the news of the first Michelin star on the radio, on the regional station Alouette. A time when customers could still enjoy the 18.50 euro menu.
The tanker on the plate and consecration
In 2013, the second star arrives. La Marine is making a name for itself all over the world, but it is from September 2016 that the restaurant’s fame flies into the skies: Netflix chooses chef Alexandre Couillon for the documentary series Chef’s Table available to its nearly 90 million subscribers worldwide. The 45-minute episode is fascinating, and in it we discover the Erika oyster, a dish invented after the sinking of the tanker of the same name that devastated the Atlantic coast the same year as the young Couillon’s acquisition, polluting 450 kilometers of coastline and causing incalculable damage to wildlife and impacting between 150,000 and 300,000 birds and according to reports at the time. A cold black oyster poached in a broth of Colonnata bacon and squid, with acidulated tapioca pearls, a fine rain of sugar that represents the reminiscence of mother-of-pearl
3 stars, finally!
Last year in Cognac Alexandre Couillon and his chef patisserie attended the Michelin guide’s star award ceremony and came away with a special dessert award but no third star? Not yet.
Now he has been awarded. A touching man who speaks fast but was patient. “My home,” he says when talking about his restaurant. A house that now joins the select club of the 29 best restaurants in France, according to the red guide.
La Marine. 3, rue Marie-Lemonnier, Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, Vendée.
Tel: 02 51 39 23 09.
Menus at 140 (6 services) and 230 euros (9 services).
Closed Sunday through Tuesday
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