In Marseille, a solar restaurant to cook “green” without going “to the Amish”

13:00, shooting time for the team of the restaurant “Le Présage” at the heights of Marseille. There is no petrol here, very little electricity: the cuisine of this restaurant depends on the sun.

When it comes time to cook, the brigade does not light anything, but places a two-meter-diameter dish covered with Schaeffer mirrors, a prototype of a German company.

If this mirror has existed for more than 50 years, “Le Présage” is the first solar restaurant in Europe, says Richard Loyen, director of Enerplan, which represents solar energy professionals in France.

Oriented towards the sun, this parabola reflects rays of light towards the fireplace located in the back kitchen, then towards the cast iron tile whose temperature can rise up to 300 degrees in about twenty minutes. It is on this plate and thanks to the ovens, also solar-powered, that the restaurant’s founder, Pierre-André Aubert, and his team devise their dishes.

And the offered recipes are indexed according to the required energy consumption. For example, offering pasta that “consumes crazy energy” is out of the question, as it is necessary to “boil a huge pot of water for 100 grams,” Mr. Aubert points out.

The experience is not a “candle return,” nor an “Amish journey,” assures Pierre-André Aubert. The 39-year-old aeronautical engineer, who later converted, is now preparing a thesis on … “a restaurant design optimized for solar cooking.”

Energy is about 10% of the carbon footprint in a restaurant, recalls Richard Loyen, who also participated in an experiment conducted at Présage for a year. And, he emphasizes, “vegetable cuisine and local procurement” further reduce that trace.

Julienne made from green vegetables, asparagus risotto …: the recipes change regularly, but they consist of “local products cooked in the sun”, Pierre-André Aubert abounds. “Even the herbs come from here,” he promises, pointing to the wild plants that surround the tables laid out on land in Château-Gombert, a district in the north of Marseille.

– Experiments –

A stone thrower from this suburban meadow, Technopôle Marseille Provence, and two major engineering schools: École Centrale and Polytech Marseille. According to the city of Marseille, this area is the leading French research center for mechanics and energy after Paris, with 170 companies, 4,000 employees and almost 2,600 students. So many people are looking for a good table between noon and two.

“Very good, very fragrant, very fresh,” enjoys that day Marie-Christine Henriot, deputy director of Polytech Paris-Saclay, traveling to the Marseille branch of the school. Unlike other customers, she was more surprised by the restaurant’s “culinary innovations” than its solar kitchens – which use technology whose experimental process follows.

His “students spin at 3,000 rpm to imagine the world of tomorrow,” he smiles.

So many innovations that his desk neighbor, Philippe Pannier, deputy director of Polytech Marseille, is also proud of: his students continue to improve the prototypes of the ovens used in “Présage”.

Pierre-André’s kitchen fits in a pot, and customers sit under the metal construction of the greenhouse or on the grass. When the sun obscures the clouds, “we light electric hobs,” the chef admits.

The engineer is constantly experimenting: for example, he wants to develop a system to recover methane produced from restaurant waste or to reuse cooking water – once filtered – to irrigate land.

His ambition: to open several “guingets” of the same type – “why not for the Olympics?”, But also, by the end of 2022, a “hard” restaurant on Château-Gombert land. The project, estimated at 1.8m euros, will revolve around a “bioclimatic building” surrounded by an “edible garden”.

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