Allyson Gofton in France: Lunch with a French twist
Very little comes between the French and their lunch. In most villages near here, come noon a siren wails, deafening any conversation you’re having. Immediately, folk leave their tractors, close their shops or put down their pens and rush to the cafe – it’s dejeuner!
For us, living a fast life in a young country, it’s hard to comprehend how here, in rural south-west France, people adhere strictly to established routines around when you eat and what you eat. Change is slow here in the Hautes-Pyrenees, which in many ways is lovely, as it maintains the romantic charm of this area.
Helping change happen is innovative restaurateur Chloe Anzar, who is doing things differently in Tarbes— a city that deserves more praise than the tour guides apportion it — while still remaining fiercely patriotic to the local “pays”, the farmers and the much-valued traditional foods produced here.
Five years ago, Chloe’s husband, Jean-Michel Lartigue, was instrumental in establishing le carre fermier — the farmers’ square — a cooperative of 10 complementary producers who built their own mini supermarket in order to sell their produce directly to the consumer seven days a week, eliminating the supermarket or middle man.
Extending the cooperative’s vision — faire le carre fermier dans l’assiette (to put our food on your plate) —18 months ago Chloe opened L’Atelier des Saissons, a boutique food workshop for all seasons, where she could serve freshly cooked, local foods in a contemporary family style and of course, all sourced at the cooperative.
Chloe wanted a place for diners and artisans to discuss, to cook and taste. It’s not your run-of-the-mill cafe, it’s a food workshop. Her chef, 20-year-old Adrian Perisse how has been cooking since he was fifteen, talks with a polite non interest for constrained classical French cuisine. He is a free spirit, passionate about simplicity, of cooking local foods in a lighter style; a new Pyrenean cuisine.
Chloe wanted diners to feel like they were shopping, to feel the excitement of viewing and buying attractively arranged dishes so, on entry you gather a panier (basket), make your choice of entree and dessert from the open chiller, place them in the basket and move onto order your main course.
Into my basket went green split peas whipped to a cream with mascarpone for entree and apples bathed in a pond of lemon verbena for dessert (above). For main, truite (trout) the only fish that appears on the menu as it is farmed locally — no mass-caught cod or sole here —crumbed with herbs and served with a creamy beetroot and potato puree.
Sitting at one of the eclectic assemblage of tables, taking in the delightful crocheted granny squares made into cushions, tea cosies and column wraps that mischievously brighten up this boutique food workshop, I could envisage Chloe’s concept working well in one of our smaller cities, like Tauranga or Dunedin.
Local flavours, fresh ideas, served dans le style familial, fabuleux!
This smooth whip can be served as a dip, or as an entree. Add your own touches with herbs like fresh coriander or mint and maybe a hint of chopped green chilli or stuffed olives. Get the recipe