A French love affair with the Berkshires
Imagine the synchronicity of two young men, both French, both trained in the hospitality industry, coming to the Berkshires and falling in love. In love with the zeitgeist, the landscape, the people and their future wives. Meet Aurelien Telle and Stephane Ferioli—owners of Alta, a restaurant and wine bar in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Aurelien grew up in Thonon-les-Bains in the Rhône-Alps region of France, where the scenic beauty, wines and local food are unparalleled. Except, according to Aurelien, in the Berkshires. The activities he enjoyed in the French countryside, he says, “swimming, hiking, skiing—are all available here in the Berkshires. I am a country boy at heart.”
Stephane grew up in nearby Ferney-Voltaire, a town known for its famous writer and philosopher Voltaire, as well as for its Saturday market. Stephane, however is not 100% French. His dad is an Italian from Bologna. Stephane exclaims in his delightful accent, “I live the American, French and Italian way. Eating is very important, in particular, our Sunday lunch—a family gathering where we sit and dine for three hours. This is a tradition I won’t give up!”
While not at the same time, both Aurelien and Stephane attended France’s oldest culinary and hospitality school, the Ecole Hoteliere Thonon-les-Bains. And as fate would have it they both arrived in the United States and worked at the venerable Wheatleigh Hotel.
“It was the best professional experience,” says Aurelien. “It taught me how to work with others, gain a deeper appreciation of food and wine, and built my confidence and language skills.” Over the course of a few years, Stephane and Aurelien went on to work elsewhere but were reunited when they both managed Spice in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Fate’s hand continued to work its magic as their reunion provided the impetus to team up with local entrepreneur Jason Berger and open Alta.
With strong hospitality backgrounds, deep roots to the Rhône-Alps region of France and their clear connection to the Berkshires, Stephane and Aurelien are a match made in heaven. For them, food has always been about great ingredients, sourced locally. Stephane asserts that foraging was a big part of his childhood—they would hunt for mushrooms, go bird hunting and attend the famous Saturday market.
“All the food at Alta,” Stephan says, “is close to the earth. We buy from Farm Girl Farm, Equinox Farm and Cricket Creek Farm, to name a few.” The same holds for wines. After all, Alta is a restaurant and wine bar. You’ll note that on the menu each entrée is carefully paired with its perfect wine. Wines are mostly from small producers. The goal is for a meal to feel and be homemade with the best ingredients from A to Z. It is important that quality never be sacrificed. Stephane and Aurelien are adamant about buying properly raised and humanely treated animals.
When Stephane stressed the importance of family, he wasn’t kidding. In the kitchen, you’ll find Chef Benjamin Daire, Stephane’s brother-in-law. And Stephane’s wife, Pittsfield native Molly Bea Ferioli, manages a companion restaurant, Frankie’s.
Chef Daire creates the menus with Aurelien’s and Stephane’s input. Stephane insists that the duck is the best item on the menu, but he admits he is biased from his duck hunting youth. “Duck is on the menu because I ate a lot of duck in France,” he says with a smirk. Chef Daire’s preparation with a salty caramel sauce has elevated the dish to a customer favorite. The foie gras is also very popular.
“Customer service is paramount,” says Aurelien. They pride themselves on listening to the patrons. They modify dishes for allergies and dietary needs. And the staff is a reflection of Aurelien’s and Stephane’s service ethos. They have had the same team, more or less, for three years.
Aurelien and Stephane have brought a little bit of France to the Berkshires and are grateful for the American entrepreneurial system that embraces people like them. Stephane said they could never have opened a restaurant like this in France. In fact, their “empire” has expanded to include Church Street Café, which Stephane oversees. And don’t be surprised if other interesting restaurants run by this duo pop up!
A giant kudos goes out to David Pratt, though. He is the front of the house manager and the person who allows Stephane and Aurelien to be home with their respective families on Sundays so they can honor their age-old tradition of long and relaxed Sunday dinners, and rest up so they can continue to deliver their impeccable service and food.
Open seven days for lunch and dinner
Lunch: Daily 11:30am–3pm
Dinner: Su–Th 5–9pm, F–Sa 5–10pm
Monthly five-course wine dinners
34 Church St., Lenox, Massachusetts
Carole Murko is a home cook, writer and host of “Radio Heirloom Meals” on Robin Hood Radio (NPR) at 91.5 FM in Sharon, Connecticut. She has hosted and produced TV specials for PBS. HeirloomMeals.com
CAROLE MURKO is a culinary artist who learned how to cook by observing her mother and grandmother. Carole has emulated their passion for entertaining, cooking and feeding friends and family and translated it into her own way of honoring traditions by creating Heirloom Meals, a storytelling platform to share treasured family recipes, stories and tips.—“Savoring yesterday’s traditions today”—on the web at HeirloomMeals.com, on the radio (NPR) Robin Hood Radio, 91.5 FM and on TV (PBS). Previously, Carole had successful careers on Wall Street and in interior design and decoration.