The scandal of France’s shrimp-stealing Top Chef

Naoëlle d'Hainaut might have been acclaimed as France's Top Chef for 2013, but a fateful moral slip involving a bowl of shrimp has brought a tidal wave of hatred upon her. Our French Face of the Week won the prize money, but at what cost?

The scandal of France's shrimp-stealing Top Chef
France's culinary Macchiavelli, Naoëlle D’Hainaut, considers stealing her opponent's shrimp, on her way to being crowned France's Top Chef 2013. Photo: 20 Minutes/Dailymotion

Who is Naoëlle d’Hainaut?

She is the pretty, unscrupulous 29-year-old chef who won the French version of the TV talent show Masterchef this year which in France is called Top Chef.

Why is she in the news this week?

Well winning Top Chef was enough to get her into the news but the fact she progressed to the show’s finale only after stealing shrimps from her rival, Yoni, while his back was turned during their cook-off, meant her victory sparked outrage among fans of the show and the public at large.

D’Hainaut’s moment of dishonesty got moral pulses racing all over France, and she immediately became a figure of hate.

After pocketing the €100,000 prize money, thousands clamoured for her Machiavellian triumph to be overturned.

This week the public got a semblance of revenge.

On Monday night, d’Hainaut faced off against last year’s winner Jean Imbert, and in a public phone-in to choose the victor, d’Hainaut was somewhat predictably massacred by a gleefully vengeful French audience, despite earlier apologizing for her behaviour.

What exactly happened?

This video shows d’Hainaut’s defining moment. Amid the show’s dramatic soundtrack, she struggles with the moral conundrum before her. “I see a big bowl of shrimp over at Yoni’s counter…And then I say to myself ‘What are you going to do?’”

In the end d’Hainaut – who is by all accounts quite a promising and accomplished chef anyway – makes a sort of Faustian pact: stealing the shrimp and winning the show, but at the same time losing the love of the public.

Naoëlle de top chef surprise en train de voler par 20Minutes

What has the reaction been like?

Pretty hateful, to be honest. A Facebook page called ‘Anti-Naoëlle Top Chef 2013’ has more than 81,000 likes, and a photo of d’Hainaut reacting to her 77 to 23 percent rejection by the French public, has been shared by more than 500 users.

Users have left comments like: “She’s a filthy, thieving cheat!” and “Detestable, miserable character..”

One user loved the concept and spirit of the campaign, but disapproved of its profile picture – a straightforward photo of D’Hainaut herself.

“Excellent…But could you change your profile picture? It’s really annoying to see her smiling face every time I log on to Facebook.”

Others, including the page’s moderator, seem to be more interested in an orchestrated, strategic lobbying campaign to reverse d’Hainaut’s triumph, though the TV channel M6 have dismissed any such attempts.

“Please – do not watch Monday’s contest. It’s the only means at our disposal to make our message heard…M6 will make money from your text messages…And anyway the winner was already chosen a long time ago…” said a post on May 3rd.

As for the ethical opprobrium, it has been well-articulated and widespread, as one Twitter user reflected.

“I find you enormously lacking in humility. The contest absolutely does not require the kind of base methods you’re employing.”

What else has she done?

Well, before she sent 77 percent of French TV viewers into moral outrage, d'Hainaut was sous-chef at the world-famous Bristol hotel in Paris.

Originally from the Oise department in northern France, she was by her own account a troubled, directionless teenager until a schoolteacher got her interested in cooking.

With her €100,000 in prize money, d’Hainaut has said she intends to set up a restaurant of her own in the south of France.

However after all the outrage she caused it might be a good idea if she opened it under a different name.

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Paris Agriculture show returns for 2022 event

The Paris farm show is back after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic. Set to be held one month before the presidential election, the 2022 event will be politically loaded.

French President Emmanuel Macron checks the quality of a cow during the Paris Agriculture show.
French President Emmanuel Macron checks the quality of a cow during the Paris Agriculture show. The event returns in late February after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic. (Photo by Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP)

The organisers of the Salon de l’agriculture, an annual farm show held in Paris, have announced that the 2022 event will be held from February 26th – March 6th.

The 2021 edition was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic – and the 2020 event was cut short – and there had been fears that this year would suffer the same fate. 

“This edition will not be like the others,” wrote the organisers in a statement, out of “respect for the health guidelines.” 

Mask-wearing rules, added ventilation inside exhibition tents and special measures to facilitate tastings during the pandemic will be implemented. Visitors will need to hold a valid health pass. 

The event falls just over one month before the first round of the presidential election, set for April 10th – and candidates will be sure to milk the opportunity to score political points. 

The event is the annual highlight of the agriculture sector – which employs about 759,000 people in France – and many more rely on the agricultural sector indirectly for employment. The sector was valued at €81.2 billion in 2021.

“This is a highly anticipated event, not just for the farming community, but also for citizens, political leaders and the media,” wrote the event organisers. 

Former President Jacques Chirac pioneered the use of the farm show as a political event, visiting almost every year from 1972- 2011. 

Former President Jacques Chirac inaugurates the 2007 Paris farm show.

Former President Jacques Chirac inaugurates the 2007 Paris farm show. (Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK / POOL / AFP)

In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron spent 14 hours strolling through the farm show, shaking hands and speaking with producers. This marathon visit set a new record for a sitting president. 

Previously, Francois Hollande is reported to have paid a 10 hour visit, Jacques Chirac 5.5 hours and Nicolas Sarkozy just four hours. 

The Local visited the show in 2020 to find out why it was so important for politicians to attend. 

READ MORE Why petting cows at the farm show is crucial for French politicians

The event, which is held at the Porte de Versailles in the south of Paris, isn’t just for farmers and politicians – it’s hugely popular with the public and thousands of people usually attend. 

The full ticket price is €15, for children between 6-12 it is €8 and children under six can go free. There are also group discounts available. 

Tickets can be bought online here and at the venue itself.