“I bare my heart.”
Pointe-Noire, the bustling port city in the Republic of Congo where Mazzia was born in 1976, has quite a few things in common with Marseilles, where he now lives and works. And a mix of French and African culture is the foundation of his culinary predilections that stray far and wide. The only constant in his impulsive and irrepressibly creative kitchen seems to be audacity.
Mazzia lived in the Congo until the age of fourteen and his first passion was basketball, which he played from 2001 to 2007 in the French league. He worked at Michelin-starred restaurants and did consulting for institutional kitchens, spending time in Spain and Japan among other places. By his own admission, the guiding principle of his nomadic career was following his heart.
At least geographically, Mazzia settled down when he became chef at Le Ventre de L’Architecte on the communal floor of a famous Le Corbusier building in Marseille, a showcase of style. He married; his first son was born. Three years into his celebrated tenure there, he left to open “AM” in the chic 8th Quarter of Marseille in 2014.
“AM” was designed from scratch to his wishes: concrete walls, oak tables on steel legs, tube and cord chairs, subdued lighting. There is no separation between kitchen and dining room, and Mazzia, over two meters tall, can be observed as he goes about his business – reflective pauses, creative flurries. One could draw a parallel between his style and that of a basketball player, each foray demanding a new in-the-moment approach to get to the board. “I don’t like to over-think things,” he says.
There is no menu at “AM.” From four blind options, the diner picks a price, basically saying, “feed me for that much.” Then it’s all in Mazzia’s hands. Vegetables, fine fish and seafood, African influences… but you’d be hard-pressed to categorize the gastronomy here. Suffice it to say that, just nine months after opening, “AM” was awarded a Michelin star. His renown rose like a rocket. A list of accolades: “Omnivore’s Creator of the Year in 2015, four toques and a 17/20 in the Gault & Millau, and rave reviews, including one by the New York Times that sparked an influx of American gastro pilgrims.
In all this, his fans from the Ventre de L’Architecte have followed, and so has his staff. Some have been with him for ten years. In 2017, Mazzia opened a second restaurant, in Aix-en-Provence. His older brother runs it. The name: “Pointe-Noire.” You wont get lost letting your heart guide you, if you know where you are coming from.