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British chef wins crown for best French village bistrot

A small cafe in central France run almost singlehandedly by a British chef was named Monday as France's best village cafe.

British chef wins crown for best French village bistrot
Photo: Bernard Niess/Flickr

Manchester-born Chris Wright only set up the Epicerie de Dienne as a shop/cafe/restaurant in a remote village in the mountainous Cantal region of central France in June.

With Dienne having fewer than 200 permanent residents, the entirely self-caught cook wasn't expecting crowds.

“I wanted it to be a low-key thing,” said the 44-year-old, who was looking for a bit of a break after spending more than a decade cooking and serving day and night at Le Timbre (postage stamp), a tiny but much-loved Parisian eatery.

Photo: Googlemaps

“Looking at it from that point of view, it's been a bit of a disaster,” he told AFP.

“I was hoping to wind down with a quiet little place were you could get a nice slice of ham and cheese. I failed there,” he laughed.

But word spread quickly around the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Park in which the village is set, with locals flocking to wonder at the British man who could cook.

“By mid-July it was mad and I had to get a bit of help,” said Wright hours before he received the prize from Le Fooding, France's trendiest food and restaurant guide.





Marks & Spencer

Wright's unexpected victory — to him at least — came as the British supermarket chain Marks & Spencer was listed as one of the best places for takeaway food in the French capital by the same guide.

Parisians have long had a love affair with the brand and there was an outcry when it pulled out of France in 2001. But it returned with a vengeance five years ago and now has 18 outlets mostly selling food in and around the French capital.

Le Fooding picked out its “quinoa, avocado and Brazil nut salad”, “Devon scones” and vegan “Vegetable Kiev” for particular praise.

Wright was one of several foreign-born chefs honoured by the guide, with the Italian Giovanni Passerini named chef of the year for his “modern trattoria” in Paris.

Le Fooding, known for its unstuffy cosmopolitan approach, also honoured Japanese chefs Katsuaki Okiyama for his Parisian restaurants Abri and Abri Soba, and Moko Hirayama for his eatery Mokonuts.

Wright said he was a big fan of cabbage and loved marrying it with Cantal's world famous “sausages, charcuterie and cheese”.

“The locals have been great. Quite of a lot of people knew of me, because I have been coming down for the last eight years or so and I love the food from around here.

“Others probably thought that (being English) I wouldn't be capable of much more than a sandwich.”

Having closed the cafe for the winter, Wright plans to open for the February holidays, then reopen properly again from May to October.

Whether he has found the peace he was looking for when he moved to the country, is another matter. “Not really,” he joked. “But I don't regret it. I love it there.”

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RESTAURANT

‘Pope’ of French cuisine Paul Bocuse dies at age 91

Paul Bocuse, one of the greatest French chefs of all time, has died aged 91, the country's interior minister said on Saturday.

'Pope' of French cuisine Paul Bocuse dies at age 91
A 2012 photo shows French chef Paul Bocuse posing in his kitchen at L'Auberge de Pont de Collonges. Bocuse died at the age of 91 on Saturday. PHOTO: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP
Dubbed the “pope” of French cuisine, Bocuse helped shake up the food world in the 1970s with the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution and created the idea of the celebrity chef.
 
“Monsieur Paul was France. The pope of gourmets has left us,” tweeted Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, announcing the chef's death after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
 
“He was one of the greatest figures of French gastronomy, the General Charles de Gaulle of cuisine,” said French food critic Francois Simon, comparing him to France's wartime saviour and dominant postwar leader.
 
A giant in a nation that prides itself as the beating heart of gastronomy, Bocuse was France's only chef to keep the Michelin food bible's coveted three-star rating through more than four decades. The heart of his empire, L'Auberge de Collonges au Mont D'Or, his father's village inn near Lyon in food-obsessed southeastern France, earned three stars
in 1965, and never lost a single one.
 
Lover of food, wine and women
 
“Monsieur Paul,” as he was known, was named “chef of the century” by Michelin's rival guide, the Gault-Millau in 1989, and again by The Culinary Institute of America in 2011.”
 
Born in 1926 to a family of cooks since 1765, Bocuse began his apprenticeship at the age of 16 and came to epitomise a certain type of French epicurean — a lover of fine wine, food and women.
 
A great upholder of tradition as well as an innovator, several of his trademark dishes at the Auberge remained unchanged for decades, such as the bass in a pastry crust or the black truffle soup he created for French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1975, who named him a commander in the Legion of Honour.
 
He slept in the same room where he was born, and managed to maintain a relationship with his wife Raymonde and at least two lovers.
 
“I love women and we live too long these days to spend one's entire life with just one,” Bocuse told the Daily Telegraph in 2005.
 
Together with the Gault-Millau guide, Bocuse became a driving force behind the Nouvelle Cuisine, sweeping away the rich and heavy sauces of yesteryear in favour of super-fresh ingredients and sleek aesthetics. Bocuse reportedly claimed the term was invented by Gault-Millau to describe food he helped prepare for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.
 
Slashing cooking times, paring down menus and paying new attention to health, Nouvelle Cuisine was a craze that fizzled out but left a lasting legacy.
 
“It was a real revolution,” said Simon. “They coined a concept that came at exactly the right moment — at a time when gastronomy was a bit dull and heavy, with thick sauces, not sexy at all.”
 
In 2007, more than 80 top chefs flew to France from around the world to celebrate his 81st birthday and his legacy.