It’s early morning near the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and world-renowned French chef Yannick Alleno eagerly awaits a man known throughout Paris’ finest dining rooms. The door to the exquisite 19th-century restaurant creaks open, and a twinkle lights up the famous chef’s eyes. In walks a man dressed in simple attire and sandals, with hair down to his shoulders and a long gray beard framing his serene face. He carries a wide wicker basket full of rare wild plants. Dispatching unneeded pleasantries, Yannick eagerly paws through the herbal gems, hungry to see the gifts of Mother Nature.
The wild-plant gatherer is Stéphane Meyer. His knowledge and practice are used in the most delectable restaurants in France for the pleasure of European nobility, such as Prince Albert of Monaco.
Like the druids of ancient Gaul (an area of Western Europe during the Roman Empire that encompassed France), Stéphane has a special quasi-mystical relationship with the plants he picks and the land on which they grow. Like the other handful of wild plant gatherers in France, his knowledge is not institutional but was passed down from master to disciple.
Stéphane studied oenology for seven years as he grew up in a family of winemakers from the small village of Voiteur, the French region of Jura famous for its distinctive wines. “I didn’t receive official training to become a gatherer,” he explains. “In my family, we gathered wild plants for our own use. My parents are very connected to nature, so I always had an interest in it.”
Giving advice to chefs of three-star Michelin restaurants didn’t come right away. “At first, I was presenting chefs with seasonal plants. Later on, they started to ask what I would put in a meal. Since I know the aroma of plants, if they want to create a contrast of flavors or create a more harmonious taste, I would suggest something. And I don’t make too many mistakes,” he smiles humbly.
While he is known as the ‘Druid of Paris’ by prestigious chefs and restaurateurs of three-star Michelin establishments like Pascal Barbot of L’Astrance and Alain Passard of L’Arpège, he carries another nickname. The famous chef Yannick Alleno calls him Santa Claus.
Stéphane doesn’t stop at delivering wild plants. He now creates different lines of products, from natural skin care to fine liquor that are popular among the European and Mediterranean elite.
“I got a phone call from the ambassador of Morocco, because one Moroccan princess drank one of the herb teas I created. She wanted more.”
It seems princes and princesses alike crave Stéphane’s royal touch. “Prince Albert of Monaco, for his birthday in 2015, received a bottle of fine liquor that I produce and sell. He really enjoyed it. I know he savored it on different occasions.”
For a man whose refined craft is supported by a practice of personal refinement, it’s clear that the Druid’s magic will continue on for many years to come.
Manifissance magazine is lucky enough to invite Stéphane’to the United States for a luxury event coming up on October 5.