Marseille is where Provence collides with the Mediterranean Sea, a briny, boisterous port of striking contrasts. The urban swagger of France’s second-largest city is tempered by the small-town vibe of its 111 villages. Rich Provençal traditions intertwine with the countless cultures that France’s oldest city has welcomed for over 2,600 years. Like no other city in the country – or the world, for that matter – Marseille marches to the beat of its own drum, making it the ideal setting for the singular style and cuisine of Alexandre Mazzia.
“I feel at home here,” smiles the three-Michelin-starred chef. As a cultural crossroads, the Mediterranean port suits Mazzia’s diverse backstory, which weaves between Africa and Europe and basketball and cooking. Marseille’s farmed and fished bounty feeds the chef’s terroir-driven cuisine, and its free-spirited nature nourishes his unbridled creativity. “I adore the cosmopolitan flavours, the generous people, the dazzling light that echoes my childhood… and especially the sea.”
The sea is rooted in Mazzia’s DNA. Born and raised in the port city of Pointe-Noire in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spending summers at his grandparents on Île de Ré off France’s Atlantic coast, the chef has fond memories of watching fishermen return with their catch and grilling fresh fish on the sea. Though meals were an important part of his childhood, Mazzia never dreamed of being a chef. After his grandmother gave him the practical advice that “cooks never starve”, he chose cookery school to avoid the military school his dad had in mind.
Meanwhile, the 1.92-metre-tall Mazzia played basketball, impressively balancing a semi-pro career with his culinary training. When he hung up his basketball jersey for a chef’s coat, Mazzia integrated the values of the sport – teamwork, empathy, goodwill and a strong work ethic – into the kitchen. After internships in Spain, Japan and France, Mazzia became a billionaire’s private chef, cooking for high-profile VIPs in every corner of the world. “Travel opened my mind,” explains the globe-trotting chef. Seeing different dishes and cultures, his individualised cooking style began to take shape.
In 2009, he honed his approach while head chef at Le Ventre de l’Architecte, the gastronomic table housed in Marseille’s Unité d’Habitation, Le Corbusier’s brutalist masterpiece of mixed-use housing (a must-visit for design buffs.) Marseille quickly adopted Mazzia, who flourished in the multicultural metropolis surrounded by the sea. It was the perfect backdrop for his own place, particularly when he met his wife there.
AM par Alexandre Mazzia set sail in 2014. Initially chosen for its cheap rent, the small restaurant is hidden on a quiet side street away from the city centre, one of the many ways Mazzia stands apart from other chefs. A play on words of his initials and the French word for soul – âme – AM invites guests to take an unforgettable trip into Mazzia’s highly personalised cuisine, to experience a wondrous story that unfolds in 15-25 dishes.
Ever humble, Mazzia designed the open kitchen to create transparency and instant connection in the intimate, 24-seat space. Dubbed ‘voyages,’ the menu is a boarding pass to his brilliant imagination and creative, colourful plates – unique flavour combinations like smoked eel and chocolate, and a raspberry harissa (two of his most popular creations). These smoked, roasted and spiced notes are the backbone of his cuisine, inspired by his Congolese upbringing. The food is also deeply tied to Marseille, brimming with local, seasonal vegetables that he sources from equally passionate farmers and fishermen.
Mazzia’s extraordinary talents have earned him a bevy of accolades, including a third Michelin star in 2021, just seven years after opening AM. As someone who’s constantly striving to improve and surpass himself (“People say I was born with three stars,” he winks), the prestigious award actually alleviated pressure from Mazzia, rather than adding to it. “It confirmed I’m not as crazy as I thought”, he says.
Though AM is now an internationally recognised temple of inventive haute cuisine, the restaurant is far from stuffy. There is a playfulness and pleasant vibe that mirrors Mazzia’s amiability and Marseille’s unpretentiousness. Most recently, he has been selected as one of the three official chefs of the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics (Marseille will host sailing and football competitions), circling back to his athletic roots.
Lauded both locally and worldwide, Mazzia has helped paved the way for Marseille’s booming culinary scene, inspiring young chefs to drop anchor in the free-spirited port. “We’ve become a capital of gastronomy,” he touts, thanks to the local fabric of food artisans and a “collective desire to bring this incredible terroir to the forefront” after being in the shadow of Paris for so long. To guide you through France’s newest and hottest foodie destination, check Alexandre Mazzia’s hand-picked recommendations for eats and more, below.
Alexandre Mazzia’s guide to Marseille: where to eat
“Chef Sarah Chougnet-Strudel has so much talent at such a young age. Her food really resembles her: locally sourced, globally inspired and with technical heft. I really appreciate how she’s not afraid to do her own thing, leading to wholly original flavour combinations on the plate.”
53 Rue Saint-Pierre
“It’s our home away from home for my family and friends. We go here on Sundays for laid-back, family-style lunches with the freshest fish and the tastiest thin-crust pizza [a Marseille specialty]. Set in the small fishing port of Les Goudes, you’ll feel like you’re on holiday… in Marseille, Sicily, Greece or around the Mediterranean.”
35 Rue Désiré Pellaprat
La Femme du Boucher
“Come to this former butcher’s shop for fantastic, meat-centric bistro fare. The headstrong Chef Laëtitia Visse was brave enough to open the city’s first carnivorous table. Boasting remarkable culinary chops for her young age, she does wonders with charcuterie, offal and aged steaks. All while being totally comfortable with who she is.”
10 Rue du Village
Michel par AM
“I opened this food truck during [the Covid pandemic] to keep the team employed and my creative juices flowing. Parked just down the street from AM, it serves gourmet street food using the restaurant’s same high-quality ingredients – like our latest hit, the doner kebab, made with free-range poultry, vegan sauces and seasonal produce. This healthy version of Marseille’s favourite sandwich has been hugely popular.”
17 Rue François Rocca
Neighbourhoods not to miss
“Teeming with fragrant food stalls and spicy African fare, this multicultural neighbourhood reminds me of my childhood. When I come here to shop for fresh herbs and spices along Rue Longue des Capucins, I always buy meloui, buttery Moroccan pancakes made with semolina. They are delicious dunked in mint tea.”
“This tiny harbour is at the southern tip of Marseille, a quiet escape from the bustle of the city. Les Goudes is the gateway to Calanques National Park. The hiking along the limestone cliffs is fantastic, especially in the early morning. It is a wonderful way to start the day. Plus, it is easy to cool off with a swim after.”
“Like my restaurant, this museum is an inviting, intimate way to experience fine art. Their rotating expositions are beautifully curated. Housed in an exquisite 17th-century mansion, the Musée Cantini is an oasis of calm in the bustling city centre.”
19 Rue Grignan
Librairie Prado Paradis
“Just down the street from AM, this independent bookstore has a great selection of books on architecture and contemporary art. My cuisine is as influenced by artists as fellow chefs, so browsing the bookshelves here is really inspiring.”
19 Avenue du Mazargues
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