Jean Sulpice et Christophe Dumarest, carte IGN, Lac Annecy

On the floor, a huge insulated trunk filled with refined dishes. Right above it, two men are arguing. The great double-starred chef and the renowned mountain guide are deeply invested in their discussion: where should we cut this magnificent pâté en croûte? Should we take one or two bottles of marvellous Savoy wines? Is it wise to transport all three of these desserts? Never before had a bivouac meal been so fantasised about.

In the forecourt of Auberge du Père Bise, Jean Sulpice is filled with enthusiasm and generosity, and would like us to taste his entire menu. Well outside my field of expertise and short of arguments, I give in to indulgence. So be it, we’ll carry everything! Moments later, seated on the shore by the inn under magnificent tree tops  most of them centenarian  we unfold the hiking map of Lake Annecy. Our eyes are drawn to one of the region’s most emblematic mountains: the Dents de Lanfon.

Mountaineering is characterised by the dream that precedes action. The map, very much like the menu in gastronomy, is that bridge between contemplation and action. But enough fooling around, it’s time to go! In the car park, a quirky vehicle stands out. The old Méhari, painted in the inn’s colours, can barely accommodate our bulky bags. We climb aboard the old Citroën like two kids about to get into trouble.
Randonnée Dents de Lanfon avec Jean Sulpice et Christophe Dumarest

Jean’s enthusiasm is contagious. I realise that the great escape we are about to embark on is a privilege considering his overwhelmingly busy schedule. Every lunchtime and evening is like a “marathon” in his kitchen. I’m starting to understand why our outing is looking more and more like an enchanted interlude. We are walking at a good pace despite our rather heavy bags. In great physical condition thanks to his morning bike rides, Jean seems to have found in sport the decompression valve he needs before his intense workday.

I know he enjoys endurance sport, namely cycling and skiing, but I still wonder how he feels about vertigo-inducing backdrops? After dropping off our bivouac gear at Col des Frêtes, I’m planning to cross the Dents de Lanfon... with a twist of my own this time! It’s still early in the climb and Jean is already noticing herbs and flowers he could use in the kitchen. He evokes associations of flavours and ideas. What if a new recipe could emerge from our walk? That would be incredible!

Watching him on that mountain, I understand that he is a chef deeply connected to his surroundings, in his ingredient selection but also by the way he approaches mountains and perceives landscapes. Today, he is taking the time to rise “above the plate”, to go up to the top, back to the source of it all.
Randonnée aux Dents de Lanfon au-dessus Lac Annecy
"Watching him on that mountain, I understand that he is a chef deeply connected to his surroundings, in his ingredient selection but also by the way he approaches mountains and perceives landscapes. Today, he is taking the time to rise “above the plate”, to go up to the top, back to the source of it all. "
Jean Sulpice escalade les dents de lanfon avec Christophe Dumarest
Jean Sulpice escalade au-dessus lac d'Annecy

We suddenly transition from meadows to rock face. The climb, albeit easy so far, has well and truly begun. After a start on the north side, we arrive at the “collu” between the south peak and the western part of the traverse, just magnificent. Mountain pines tormented by the elements all year round bring a southern flavour to the scenery. Behind us, we have Mont Blanc, to our left, the Tournette and under our feet... the Calanques! Only the Semnoz serves to remind us that the lake has its limits, and that our Mediterranean is in fact fresh water.

As the path turns into a proper climb through the rocky pinnacles that make up the lacy Dents de Lanfon, I notice a change in Jean’s gaze.

Getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks, getting involved, having a taste for sharing and the beauty of shapes... there are numerous analogies between our respective worlds. I have the feeling that this outing symbolises the birth of a rope team, and that we will someday share other ascents together. We continue the journey between action and contemplation. We simply can’t get enough of that incredible view.
Escalade des dents de lanfon au-dessus lac Annecy
feu de camp avec Jean Sulpice

Back at the pass, we have to collect enough wood to serve as ember to cook our meal. This time the roles are reversed: I am at the chef’s orders. My focus level goes back down, while his eyes kindle as he maliciously browses through the ingredients that will make up our meal this evening.
We start with the pâté en croute and a glass of Mondeuse, filling our taste buds with delight. I don’t know if it’s the quality of the food, the 12.5° of Savoy wine or the efforts of the day, but our faces irrevocably light up. For Jean, named Chef of the Year 2018 by prestigious Gault & Millau, it’s time to lay down a juniper twig to flavour the meat. A beautiful grated truffle tops off the plate highlighting a spelt risotto with butternut squash.
The sun disappears behind the Semnoz as the warm, round sound of the cork pops. Our exploration continues, this time in the plate. What surprises me the most, beyond the quality of the ingredients and the sauces highlighting them, is the attention paid to each element. No detail has been left to chance or suffered from any approximation. An invitation  if there ever was one  to inject awareness into the art of eating. After such a feast, a dessert doesn’t seem necessary. Unless... “I never finish a meal without a little sweet!” he says. I let go of any guilt and jump right in! Just before going back to our modest bed, we savour an Amandine-style pear tart and a delicious Saint-Genix cake filled with pralines, barely browned by the fading embers.
Chef Jean Sulpice cuisine sur un feu de camp en montagne
repas en randonnée aux dents de lanfon
Coucher de soleil au-dessus du Lac d'Annecy
coucher de soleil lac d'Annecy

The sunrise is our signal. It’s time to go back down. Jean and I will not keep exactly the same memories from this trip. Rather vertical for one, gastronomic for the other, but we do have in common our taste for sharing and challenges that make up some of life’s most magical moments.
Herbes de montagne en Savoie, au-dessus de Talloires
Portrait de Jean Sulpice, escalade des Dents de Lanfon
Rédaction : Christophe Dumarest | Photographie : Marc Daviet
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