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Mélanie Serre – Chef with character

By: Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Hardly anyone celebrates and presents food as skilfully and deliciously as Mélanie Serre. At Elsa restaurant in Monte-Carlo Beach, the young French woman relies on organic vegetables from her own garden along with products from the Mediterranean region. The rising star of the year talks to KTCHNrebel about the challenges of the restaurant business, her product-focused cuisine and her secret to success.

“My culinary concept is untreated, natural cuisine from the Mediterranean region made with high-quality products from the sea, as well as from our Domaine d’Agerbol, our vegetable garden ,” says Mélanie Serre. Located in Roquebrune hill, only about 700 meters from the restaurant, the vegetable garden produces organic vegetables exclusively for the restaurant. To some extent, the gourmet restaurant Elsa is regarded as a rather unknown insider tip directly at Monte-Carlo Beach in Monaco. The outstanding cuisine is not the only thing that invites you to linger here. As soon as you enter the terrace and look at the horizon, which seems endless over the sea, it feels as if time is standing still.

Terrace view at Monte Carlo Beach Club

Image: Monte-Carlo SBM

Cuisine with contrast and distinct flavor

Her culinary creations focus on seafood, wild-caught fish and organic vegetables. “My cuisine is designed to put the product in the foreground. It’s a mix of delicious food and pure elegance. That’s why I like to work with just one or two ingredients and create different variations,” says the Ardèche chef, when describing her cooking style. The focus should be on the products and maintaining their character – and Serre succeeds in doing so. Inspired by nature, the seasons, the Mediterranean way of life and local food, her cuisine allows her to bring an inexhaustible sense of creativity to guests’ plates.

“I really like raw or cooked vegetables, but also season a lot with Calamansi vinegar and Espelette allspice. That’s something that will never be in short supply in my cupboard,” says Mélanie Serre with a wink.

What I love about cooking is sharing. Sharing with suppliers when searching for products. Sharing with the teams in creating recipes and sharing with the guests by giving them a piece of our soul through every dish. The joy of bringing joy.Mélanie Serre

Mélanie Serre’s cuisine – a tribute to nature

For her, sustainability is not a choice, but rather an absolute necessity. “How can you use the product in its entirety? You also use the leftover vegetable peels, all the seeds or kernels, or even fish bones and meat carcasses,” says the 36-year-old. But for her, there’s more to sustainable cooking than just focusing on zero waste; fresh, seasonal products and short transport routes are just as important to her. “Good interaction with producers is crucial. The way they work, how they see things, whether they love their land or their animals is essential,” says the chef.

She creates her dishes every year and everything is always adapted to the season. For example, the current summer season kicks off with Mediterranean sea bass in sesame crust, young spinach sprouts and civet sauce with black pepper or with lobster tortelli, green pea cream, spicy sponge cake with tarragon oil. As a meat course, there’s quail stuffed with dried fruit and hazelnuts, young braised endive and candied orange poultry sauce, or roast rack of lamb, tomato sauce with harissa, vegetables and panisses with black olives.


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“I get ideas for my future menu when I visit the market stalls on Sundays or browse cooking magazines in the tobacco shop next door,” stresses Mélanie Serre. Creativity and ideas are usually unpredictable and the creative chef tells us that she always has a notebook and a pencil at hand, even in the middle of the night. “But taking a stroll through the vegetable garden at Domaine d’Agerbol is particularly inspiring to me.”

Her favorite dish, however, is something that isn’t on the menu at all – a gratin made from eggplant, tomatoized roux and Emmental cheese. “A simple but perfectly prepared dish that I still dream of today. That’s what my grandmother made for me every Friday until I was 18,” Serre gushes. “I also tried to cook it in the restaurant, but it never tasted like grandma’s.”

Passionate about cooking

Being a chef wasn’t always Mélanie’s dream job – when she was young, she wanted to be a vet. However, inspired by her uncle’s catering business, she decided to go into the restaurant business after graduating from high school. “I liked management and administration, so I completed a management course with a focus on hotel and gastronomy at the Vatel hotel college in Lyon,” she recalls. “I completed an internship at Caterer Potel et Chabot during the last year of my studies. And from that moment on, my passion was born.”


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On her career path, the enthusiastic French woman met outstanding and very gracious chefs who wanted to pass on their craft. “I really enjoyed working with Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon for eight years. In 2015, he entrusted me with managing Atelier Étoile in Paris,” says Mélanie Serre proudly. More top chefs followed. “Christophe Cussac trained me in Monaco for four years. In Megève, Olivier Bardoux showed me the most sophisticated cooking techniques. Everyone treated me with kindness and instilled in me a love for the job.” As of 2020, she has worked at Le Louis Vins, which belongs to her current husband Bertrand Guillou-Valentin. Since the summer of 2022, she has been the chef at the Elsa Restaurant at Monte-Carlo Beach, where, as she describes it, there is a very familial atmosphere.

I like to create a family in my kitchen.Mélanie Serre

Fortunately, there are no staffing problems or shortages at Elsa. “The restaurant team is complete because the working conditions are attractive. The staffing shortage in our profession today is a tremendous challenge for many colleagues. There is nothing worse than turning away guests due to staff shortages,” says the chef. In her opinion, Covid has not improved the situation, but at least there is a little hope on the horizon. “Fortunately, working conditions are moving in the right direction, but employees are coming from far away,” Serre said. “Today, you have to instill in young people a passion for this profession, a vision and a company goal or project.” A good salary or a nice-sounding “line on the resume” is no longer enough. “Employees must become part of the business, they must be involved in the life of the business,” says the chef.


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Mélanie Serre’s secret to success: Hard work and nice encounters

As a chef, Serre had to fight harder than others to be accepted and shown respect in positions of responsibility. “But you get respect through hard work, that’s no secret.” For several years she worked hard and put her personal life on hold. “Today I’m reaping the rewards. I have a family, a small son and am self-employed. I’m also lucky enough to be able to choose who I want to work with,” says the young mom. However, in her opinion, the most difficult thing is balance. “Once you find the balance between your personal and professional life, you move forward twice as fast. Because you can use both as indispensable drivers for your well-being,” stresses the culinary artist.

In addition, the network and environment with which you surround yourself is crucial for success as a chef. “Family, a partner, friends. People who understand our difficulties, limitations, delays or absences,” says the tough chef. “It’s nice that more and more women also want to work as chefs, but unfortunately they often give up when they start a family,” Serre regrets. But as you can see from her example, both are possible these days. “True, we’re away more often than in other professions. But what counts is the quality of the time we spend with our loved ones,” says the gourmet chef.


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Serre: Rising star of 2023

She has already reaped the rewards of her efforts in a professional context: In 2022, Elsa restaurant in Monte-Carlo Beach received a score of 15/20 and three toques in Gault & Millau. In addition, Mélanie Serre received the “Grand de Demain” (Rising Star of the Year) award from Gault & Millau. “It’s a nice award for the teams at Elsa restaurant. It makes us want to go even further in our pursuit of excellence and in our approach to natural cuisine,” says the winner. The commitment in terms of sustainability has also paid off. In April, Mélanie Serre and her team at Elsa were awarded the special “Ethical & Sustainabilty Award” by La Liste Mediteranean 2023.

And the next challenge already awaits. “I will open my restaurant in Cap Ferret in mid-June, and the restaurant will be open all year round,” says the dedicated chef. She didn’t want to tell KTCHNrebel much more about it, but we still say congratulations to this powerhouse – the exciting suspense continues.

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