Who said the hotel business was a man's business? Certainly not Samantha Beltrami, manager of the three-star Charbonnel hotel-restaurant in Brantôme-en-Périgueux. At 31, the fiery-haired young woman has been overseeing the rebirth of a respected institution since 2018, when it needed to renew itself to maintain its standing. "My parents, who had just bought the establishment from the Charbonnel sisters, gave me carte blanche to open it up to modernity," recalls Samantha Beltrami, who immediately set to work to dust off the flagship on the banks of the Dronne.
Trained in the tough school of luxury hospitality, the young woman began by redesigning the dining room. The old furniture has been replaced by contemporary-style tables and armchairs, and the lighting has been replaced by designer lampshades made by Tricard in Le Bugue. As the icing on the cake, metal creations signed by artist Romain Sudret line the room's cream-colored walls with delicate lace. "On the other hand, we've kept the large bay windows, which offer a breathtaking view of the river," points out Samantha Beltrami, who could spend hours marvelling at the monochrome of greens that drape the Dronne in summer.
Hyperactive, Samantha Beltrami is everywhere. At reception, in the dining room or in the hotel rooms, making sure that everything is perfectly in place to welcome guests. I take my role very seriously," says the young woman, perfectly at ease with foreign customers. When she was younger, she spent a year in New Zealand. A rare opportunity in the life of a student, she seized it with all the enthusiasm of her youth to become bilingual both orally and in writing. "I can translate the restaurant's menus and explain to customers in detail the foods they'll find on their plates," says Samantha Beltrami.
A former Michelin-starred chef in the kitchen
All that remained was to change the content of the plates. This was achieved with the surprise arrival of Sébastien Riou in the Charbonnel kitchen in November 2022. The chef of the former Michelin-starred restaurant "Un parfum de gourmandises" in Périgueux was looking to revive his career after the establishment went into receivership a year after the restrictions imposed by the health crisis came to an end. As fate would have it, he almost immediately crossed paths with Samantha Beltrami. With the same headstrong temperament and free-spirited approach, the two professionals hit it off immediately.
Modest by nature, Sébastien Riou initially tried to fit into the mold by adapting the signature menus devised by the three generations of Charbonnel chefs who had worked in the illustrious kitchen before him. But his creativity and insatiable taste for innovation gradually took over. Little by little, I let my inner nature speak for itself," confesses Sébastien Riou. I started with sauces before moving on to dishes and formulas".
A sign of how far he's come, since spring the chef has been offering his customers the chance to sample a complete menu without knowing what they're going to be served. "People find out exactly what they've eaten once the meal is over," says Sébastien Riou, pleased to note that the approach is as entertaining as it is instructive. "When the tasting ends, many are surprised to learn that there were so many different ingredients on their plate," smiles the chef.
Ready to shake up the institution
To keep surprising his customers, Sébastien Riou renews his menu every six to eight weeks. After a beet tartlet with goat's cheese mousse, haddock served with lemon mashed potatoes and crème brûlée, his Paimpol beans caused a sensation. "I follow seasonal produce", says the chef, who has a whole team of young talents in his wake, including his second-in-command Louis and chef de partie Paul, ready to shake up the institution.
"All three of us are very attached to fresh, local produce, but sometimes we have different opinions on other things. It's from this confrontation of ideas that the most daring recipes are born," continues Sébastien Riou, who isn't afraid to give his team-mates carte blanche. "Louis created an Asian menu that we served on September 29 as part of an Asian-themed evening," adds the chef.
One year after the start of their collaboration, Sébastien Riou and Samantha Beltrami have come a long way, bringing a breath of modernity to the Charbonnel hotel-restaurant. Now it's up to the duo to find the energy to earn a Michelin star. "It would be great for Brantôme, which would then have two starred restaurants," hopes Sébastien Riou, confident in his lucky star.
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