The week that was (27 September 2017)

- We'll start with something to make the blood boil - an excellent article in the NYTimes about the trail of destruction being led across the developing world as the multi-national food companies move into poorer regions, chasing the business they are losing in the western world. Unsurprisingly the health problems follow. "The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight." 

- I counter that with the beautiful words of the late AA Gill. GT have published his story of a fishing expedition with Jock Zonfrillo off Kangaroo Island. It is, as it always was, captivating reading. I'm not even going to quote it, I implore you to read it ...

- You may also want to seek out the latest Conde Nast Traveller - their annual food issue. Among the mix, this little wrap on Sydney dining and the 97 restaurants they'd travel the world for
- Foodservice Mag announced the results of their inaugural Women in Food Service Award. Do check out all the winners online. 
- Sticking with the chicks, WOHO are launching their mentoring program on 25 September. The program is run by Jane Strode and the mentoring team includes Christine Manfield, Jemma Whiteman, OTama Carey, Danielle Alvarez and Mike Bennie. That’s a lot of my favourite people. I am also thrilled to see there is a penis in the mix. I have said it before, and will say it again, feminism is not a woman’s issue – it’s one for everyone. Get your tix here.
- Last Thursday was RUOK day. We all know how important it is to ask; how important it is to realise there are battles you may not see and that walking in their shoes might not be enough. Ben Shewry, poster boy for gentle thoughts, chose this week to share his new working hours with the world. An excerpt of his post below (the post is a picture of Ben):
“Occasionally well intentioned people will say to me "your success must feel amazing" or the old chestnut "you must feel so lucky" and I'm grateful for sure but this year I've been reflecting on some facts of my "success"; I'm 40, I've averaged 75 hours per week in kitchens since the age of 14. I've already worked roughly the same amount of hours as a person averaging 40 hours per week throughout their career to retirement age. So no I don't feel "amazing" I feel like I'm 65! We've built the restaurant on the values of questioning everything, EVERYTHING. This year I feel we took a major leap forward in the development of our culture by putting the young men and woman who work in our kitchens on a 48 hour weekly roster. 4 days on, 3 days off ... Changing the roster structure to accommodate the fact that cooks are humans, not machines and indeed can have lives as well has been cathartic ... We get an elite 48 hours out of each one of them and all of our cooks can work on multiple sections at any given moment, becoming multi skilled in the process ... it is very important to me that our cooks to leave here with the ability to cook properly. And while they are working at attica it is also important for all of our staff to have a life with their partners, friends and family.”

He's a good man.

In the SMH article they go on to say: “Remember that when your food is cheap, chances are, someone else is paying. That needs to change if we still want decent chefs in ten years.” Yep.
Postcards from Chassignolles (and a petit back story):
I was thirteen years old when I fell in love with France. It was in a town called Limeuil, a medieval village on the confluence of the Vezere and the Dordogne. We, my parents and I, had arrived late. It was unusual to have them to myself (I am the eldest of four) but in their parental wisdom they had decided to take us each on a trip of our own to see some of the world. It changed the dynamic. It didn’t change Dad’s poor driving and Mum’s poor map reading. We arrived fraught and hungry.
The first place we stumbled upon was Isabeau de Limeuil, a local bistro, the only bistro. We opened the door to a group of locals talking animatedly under a cloud of their own cigarette smoke (smoking laws had just been introduced in France, but the non-smokers table was either beside the toilet door or, on one occasion, actually outside). We were seated in the cozy dining room: a fire roaring to one side, half a dozen tables, a dog, her litter, and a couple of cats - a health inspector’s nightmare.

We were tired and Dad, the French speaker among us, asked for a small, simple meal, perhaps a bowl of soup, or an omelette? A tureen of soup arrived and Dad, rather chuffed with his language achievements, encouraged us to eat up. We did, and watched the empty tureen cleared, only to be replaced with a second soup … then an omelette, a terrine, roast pork, salad, cheese and finally an apricot tart. While I don’t remember each dish, let alone the individual flavours, I do know it was the first times I experienced the enchantment of a meal in a restaurant, a meal that wasn’t just about filling someone up (although it certainly did that) but a meal that was about ritual, about being proud of what you had to offer, about conviviality. I was smitten, both with the impact food could have and with la belle France.

This romantic image of the French countryside bistro/auberge was reinforced when I began reading Elizabeth David. Each time I had saved enough money I would return to France, always with one of her books tucked into my suitcase. Her words would transport me if the reality didn't always match up. On one of those early trips I returned to Limeuil, a pilgrimage of sorts, sadly to find the restaurant long closed. 
The idea of the country auberge (or bistro) is not simply a respite from a long drive; a true auberge offers a taste of the land around you, in the same way that you open your car window and breath in the perfume of a place, the auberge provides the flavour of the place. A tradition of warm country hospitality, a comfortable bed and a simple yet delicious meal created with the aid of the local terroir. 

At Auberge de Chassignolles (where I have spent the last fortnight) this tradition is upheld in a way I was worried had ceased to exist. The tiny town is its own postcard, but the food and wine are the true indulgence. Thomas, the chef, cares for an abundant potager 100m from the auberge. Each day he can be seen with his wheelbarrow – on the way down it’s filled with kitchen scraps for the chooks and feed for the lambs (their number now diminished by half as they’ve been sacrificed for feasts shared with local wine makers and guests). When he returns it is full of summer veg, now, coloured with the tinges of autumn that are also creeping across the surrounding forest.
The food, presented as a casual five course dinner (or an excellent Sunday lunch) that you can take as a demi-pension with your accommodation, is a little like salt to an egg (or a squeeze to a hug) – the lightest of touches, the slightest complementary or opposing accent, each element cooked perfectly, balanced not just of flavour but also of tradition and modernity – just enough to enhance the beauty that is already within. I once wrote in this missive of the joy of a potato plucked straight from the earth, its heart still beating – it is like that here, but every vegetable you eat seems to be still holding onto its heartbeat.

The wine list is also a thing of beauty, living wines, collected from around the region and further afield. We have drunk abundantly and very well. There is a delightfully ramshackle feel to the hospitality too, you are part of the family: you are looked after / you fend for yourself / you look after others. 

Interestingly, this auberge is not in the hands of the French, but rather the British. Current owners Peter and Max bought the auberge a few years back from another Brit, Harry (who runs the excellent Le Saint Eutrope in nearby Clermont-Ferrand, another must-do if you are in the area). At the beginning, I admit to finding all the English banter a little jarring in the rural French setting. But ED was not French and her words took me there ... 

And so, I have fallen in love all over again - a modern idea of France, with a heart embedded in her deep history. Places like this are important for more than the culture of consumption - with great food and wine comes culture in its pure form. Conversations at the table have been rich in ideas and thoughts - concepts that have been shared across metiers - wine makers talking to chefs, who are in turn talking to writers, scientists, students, artists. It is the very idea of conviviality. We may not have Isabeau de Limeuil anymore, but we do have Chassignolles.