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As the BMW i7 slowly glides between the rows of trees along the avenue to Château de Berne, you can’t help but think of the music you would choose for a suitable accompanying soundtrack. Nestled in a green oasis in the middle of a large forest in the heart of Provence, you feel immersed in your own time zone. Like a small, elegant Provencal village, this luxurious five-star hotel is surrounded by colorful gardens and lies between Lorgues and Flayosc, around an hour from Cannes. Among the greens, reds and yellows of the plants, the pools shimmer in all shades of blue in the sunlight.
Built in the 18th century, the estate is now a prestigious sanctuary devoted to relaxation and enjoyment. The intensive relationship with green spaces and nature is also reflected in the name of the destination at the end of this extraordinary pleasure trip: Le Jardin de Berne, or Garden of Berne. As the BMW i7 is parked in front of the restaurant on a small, cobbled square with a fountain, Head Chef Louis Rameau comes around the corner with a basket full of vegetables. Perfect timing.
Château de Berne’s gourmet restaurant not only has a Michelin star; it has also been awarded a green Michelin star for its commitment to sustainable gastronomy: vegetables, herbs, honey and flowers come from the garden, the olive trees yield olive oil and wine is produced in the estate’s own vineyards. The award is prestigious, and at the same time points towards a new kind of high-end cuisine. The concept of luxury has long been changing.
Decadent opulence is giving way to a deeper understanding of products, their production and their origin. Rameau epitomizes this new generation of chefs. The Frenchman is grateful for the awards, but it is his guests’ appreciative responses to his food that give him the greatest pleasure. He has a pleasantly calm and serene air. You feel how passionate he is about his craft with every word he utters about the contents of the vegetable basket on the way to the restaurant.
Nowadays, the perception of luxury goes far beyond purely physical objects – it also encompasses seemingly fleeting things like unique experiences and particular emotions. It is precisely these emotional moments that chef Rameau focuses on: “I want to take my guests on a sensory journey through Provence. What’s important to me are the feelings that my dishes arouse. Leaning back with your eyes closed as if you were in the back of the BMW i7 and letting the taste of the individual elements evoke vivid images in your head: That to me is luxury. Not simply collecting the most expensive products.”
As with automotive engineering, refining the menu of an upscale, sustainable restaurant is always about combining tradition and innovation. Products should reflect the regional background (➜ Read also: Sustainable indulgence in South Tyrol) and reinterpret old recipes, while new techniques and preparation methods provide scope for creativity. Rameau, who took over as head chef of Jardin de Berne in March 2020, is an advocate of simple and authentic cooking.
He expresses his talent and creativity in the dishes he creates, which are a tribute to the wealth of produce from the Provence region and, above all, from the hotel’s own 3,000-square-meter organically cultivated garden. “For a nature lover like me, Château de Berne is a limitless, rich and inspiring adventure playground. Having our own vegetable garden means we are able to work with the best nature has to offer – including tomatoes, leeks, carrots, spinach, zucchini and eggplant. And by using spices and seasonings like saffron pistils from our region or one of our homemade olive oils, we preserve the original flavors. But we can’t control nature, and nor do we want to, so we have to adapt our way of working.”
Products should be served to guests when they are at their best. Vegetables, fruit and herbs are therefore prepared according to the rhythm of the seasons and the generosity of the estate’s vegetable garden. Sustainable cultivation, seasonality, short distances – small cycles: “When it comes to meat, fish and vegetables, we only work with local producers. We try as best we can to find sustainable solutions. For example, we feed the chickens from one producer with the leftovers from the cheese production of another local supplier. We use the compost from our kitchen to fertilize the vines in our own vineyards.”
Sustainability and short cycles are also a focus in BMW i7 production. The Dingolfing plant uses green energy as well as numerous other measures which contribute to this: As well as the multiple deployment of manufacturing robots in body construction, resource consumption in the paint shop has also been further reduced, for example. New lines for cathodic dip coating and a dry scrubber are in operation, which should significantly reduce both water and energy use. Other aspects of sustainable production include energy-efficient machinery installations and packaging planning, as well as traffic logistics, recycling, and water management (➜ Read also: Sustainability in every car BMW builds).
Rameau became interested in the culinary traditions of south-west France at a young age and devoted his passion to creating new dishes and gastronomic discoveries. The future is a question that is always closely linked to a commitment to change in the present – and not just in fine dining. To help him find inspiration for his inventiveness and for personal development, Rameau decided to leave his homeland. He embarked on a journey around the world to learn as many different ways of cooking as possible, having kitchen adventures in established restaurants in Canada, Martinique, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand.
“Traveling the world with your eyes wide open is one of the most important character traits for me and my team,” says Rameau as he sits us down at the chef’s table. Guests can experience the art of cooking at close range from this elegant, heavy table at the back of restaurant Le Jardin de Berne. A glass door provides a direct view of the Michelin-starred kitchen. Rameau places a great emphasis on his team. “Award-winning cuisine is always teamwork. We must all have the courage to try something new. If you’re willing to explore new things and confront the unknown, it’s okay if something goes wrong along the way. Developing new dishes is a complex process. You have to be allowed to make mistakes so you can learn from them. In the end, this receptiveness to the future is always rewarded.”
As in the kitchen, it also helps BMW to think outside the box more often when looking to the future in automotive engineering and when developing the mobility and luxury of the future – as with the BMW i7. That is why BMW is always looking to exchange ideas on an equal footing with forward-thinking minds in a wide range of areas – about sustainable materials and conscious enjoyment through to digital art, new technologies and urban trends in the cities of tomorrow (➜ Read also: THIS IS FORWARDISM – the audio series with the designers of the future).
Before Rameau starts work in the kitchen, he still has to check the quality of the olives in the estate’s olive grove, which has over 5,000 trees. For this short trip, he can sit in the back of the BMW i7 today instead of the electric golf cart. The route leads past the imposing avenue and a tower-like villa, one of the signature accommodations of the Château de Berne luxury hotel, and downhill into the deep green of the forest. Rameau immediately notices the panoramic glass roof. He says it reminds him of the restaurant, a part of which consists of a picturesque glazed conservatory that lets lots of light into the interior – architecture and design play a crucial role when it comes to the luxury experience (➜ Read also: Auto design – how to create a classic).
At Le Jardin de Berne, Head Chef Rameau and his team look for the hidden truth in each ingredient to create new combinations, unusual pairings and surprising textures, and in doing so respect the original intention prescribed by nature. “We use the whole product. That’s a decision that brings us nearer to the intimacy of the product – and a genuine source of inspiration for a menu that changes with the seasons.” Diners can enjoy a five- or seven-course menu, or the chef’s table menu made up of specially designed courses and served in the exclusive area of the restaurant facing the kitchen. Each dish is a personal encounter extending beyond the table in a protected environment and a cultivated ambience. “Reserving a table at Le Jardin de Berne means going on another trip after you arrive at the restaurant.”
The change in our understanding of luxury, rethinking and refocusing on products with a clear origin also means that curiosity about new highlights along the (culinary) travel route is growing. Gold? Diamonds? Lobster? Caviar? Wagyu beef? Expected luxury is a thing of the past. The new luxury surprises us with unusual details. Just as the crystal headlights of the BMW i7 (➜ Read also: The new light on the road) put on a light show as an exclusive welcome when the driver approaches the vehicle, Rameau and his team serve an appetizer that pays tribute to Provencal honey in all pairings and preparation methods, or a dish that brings out all the elements of the supposedly simple tomato – from marinating it in garden verbena through to a sorbet.
The kitchen team at Le Jardin de Berne is passionate about unlocking the full potential of each ingredient. “The financial value of an ingredient is not what matters. It’s about getting what we can out of a product and using as much of it as possible. Everything must be considered on the same level. And if the product is of the best quality, then even a supposedly simple tomato has the same value for me as a truffle.” This new way of thinking also represents what BMW embraces with the term Forwardism: advocating that the world can be different than it is now, and that it pays to question things.
As he arranges a dish of beeswax, honey and pollen on a table in front of the restaurant with flair and precision, Rameau reminisces with a smile. “I’ve traveled a lot. I wanted to experience many things and learn about new technologies, tools and methods to make the basic product better. To create dishes like this, which I wasn’t able to do ten years ago. The journey and the search for dishes of the future goes on, and I also have big plans for our vegetable and herb garden.” Plenty of space would be available on the grounds of the luxury resort. And who knows what ideas Rameau and his team will come up with in the next few years? He might even look as far as Japan (➜ Read also: Discover Japan with a textile artist) for inspiration – the next stop on our journey with the BMW i7 in search of culinary pioneers.
Author: Markus Löblein; Art: Shin Miura, Madita O‘Sulllivan; Photos: Martin Bruno, Château de Berne, Martin Dejoie, Olivier Rotte, Lea Gil