Bouillabaisse: Are you serving the real deal?

Antoinette Bruno

Recipe

It is a food-lover’s faux pas to go to Marseille without tasting Bouillabaisse. Traditionally, fishermen prepared this soup from all of the daily unsold fish. Today, it appears on some of the world’s top restaurant’s menus and is a highly priced gourmet delight as it includes some of the best picks of fresh fish and it takes 3-4 hours to prepare.

Traditional Bouillabaisse calls for a minimum of 4 Mediterranean rock fish cooked in a stock made from a variety of smaller Mediterranean fish. Its name is derived from the Provençal French words "boui" (boil) and "abaisse" (reduce), signifying the incessant fluctuation of temperature during the lengthy preparation of the soup.

In 1980, in an attempt to fight against a variety of unauthentic Bouillabaisse soups being served throughout France, Marseille’s best chefs drew up a Bouillabaisse Charter in which they define and describe Bouillabaisse’s basic ingredients, recipe and the way the soup is to be served.

While top chefs in Marseille stick to the traditional ingredients, some American-based chefs add other shellfish such as blue crabs, lobster and mussels. The following recipes compare the Charter’s basic recipe, Marseillaise Chef Alexandre Pinna’s and two American-based chefs Laurent Tourondel of Cello in New York and Michael Regua, Sr. of Antoine’s in New Orleans. Since 1997, Alexandre Pinna has been chef at Fonfon restaurant, one of the most famous restaurants in Marseille for its traditional Bouillabaisse (he serves it 7 days a week). The restaurant is also a member of the Bouillabaisse Charter. At just 27 years old, Alexandre Pinna has already trained at L'Oursinade in Marseille and at the Hôtel de Paris under the supervision of Alain Ducasse.

Chef Pinna, and his fellow Charter members, have the Mediterranean fishmongers supply them with their daily bouillabaisse-making needs. While American-based chefs use local products, in some cases to replace the traditional ones, and in others to add a welcome twist.