Monday, March 23, 2015

Big Châteauneuf Wine Fest April 11 & 12

The Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, now in its sixth year, is a festive rite of spring for wine lovers here in the South of France. This year it's Saturday and Sunday, April 11 and 12, with a special day on Monday April 13 (9:30 am to 2:30 pm) for wine-industry professionals. More than 85 winemakers from Châteauneuf will be on hand, schmoozing, pouring and selling, making this a wonderful opportunity to meet local winemakers while tasting their latest releases and a few smashing older vintages. It’s also an easy way to buy the wines you love, some of them normally quite difficult to get. This year, there will also be eight winemakers from Spain (particularly the Priorat region) on hand. 

As in years past there will be tasting seminars ("ateliers degustations") for an extra charge but all three are already sold out, sorry! 

Les Printemps takes place at the Salle Dufays on the Place de la Renaissance in Châteauneuf, from 10 am to 7 pm both days. Your 8€ entry fee gets you in all weekend and includes a tasting glass. There will be free parking...indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids...and food available on site. For all the info, click here for the event website; you can also call the Tourist Office at 04 90 83 71 08.  For general info about the the wines of Châteauneuf, the village and the region, click here and here

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March 19: On your Mark, Get Set, Eat French!

On Thursday, March 19, more than 1,300 restaurants in 150 countries will offer special dinner menus designed to celebrate French gastronomy in all its forms.
Participating chefs include some of the top names in French cuisine — among them Paul Bocuse, GuySavoy, Joël Robuchon, Raymond Blanc and Marc Haeberlin — along with scores of other French and non-French chefs working in France and abroad.
Known as Goût de France, the initiative was spearheaded by superstar chef Alain Ducasse and Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. 

The duo was inspired by legendary culinarian Auguste Escoffier, who launched the “Dîners d’Épicure” in 1912. Escoffier’s idea was to promote French cuisine by serving the same menu on the same day in cities all over the globe.

Ducasse says that Goût de France will "honor the merits of French food, its capacity for innovation, and its values: sharing, enjoying, and respecting the principles of high-quality, environmentally responsible cuisine." (The event is also being called Good France, as opposed to the literal translation of its name, Taste of France).
In everything from rustic bistros to gilded Michelin-starred dining rooms, those lucky enough to get a table will enjoy a set-price French-style menu featuring a traditional French apéritif, a cold starter, a hot starter, fish or shellfish, meat or poultry, French cheese, a chocolate dessert, and French wines and digestifs.
The chefs are free to highlight their own culinary traditions and culture, but have been directed to base the meal upon fresh, seasonal, and local products, with an eye to lower levels of fat, sugar, salt, and protein.
Menu prices are at the chefs’ discretion, and all participants have been encouraged to donate 5% of their proceeds to a local NGO promoting health and/or environmental protection.
French embassies abroad will also be involved, staging their own Goût de France dinners with ambassadors present. A grand dinner will be held at the Château de Versailles for foreign ambassadors posted in Paris along with other dignitaries.
After an open call for applications, Ducasse and his 40-chef committee chose the finalists based on the “coherence and quality of their proposed menus.”

Here in the South of France, you can see everyone who’s participating by clicking here. Below is just a selection; most but not all have posted their special menu and price on the Goût de France site.

*Gérald Passédat (Le Petit Nice, Marseille)
*Lionel Levy (Hotel Inter Continental, Marseille)
*Ludovic Turac (Une Table au Sud, Marseille)
*Guillaume Sourrieu (L’Epuisette, Marseille)
*Marc de Passorio (L’Esprit de la Violette, Aix)
*Pierre Reboul (Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix)
*Mathias Dandine (Les Lodges Sainte Victoire, Aix)
*Christophe Martin (Bastide de Moustiers, Moustiers)
*Erwan Louaisil (Moulin de Mougins, Mougins)
*Ronan Kervarrec (La Chèvre d'Or, Eze)
*David Cahen (Au Petit Gari, Nice)
*Notel Mantel (Mantel, Cannes)
*Alain Llorca (Restaurant Alain Llorca, La Colle sur Loup)
*Yoric Tieche (La Passagère, Juan Les Pins)
*Benjamin Collombat (Cote Rue, Draguignan)
*Paolo Sari (Elsa, Roqeubrune Cap Martin)
*Jean-Francois Berard (Hostellerie Berard, La Cadiere d’Azur)
*Benoit Witz (L'Hostellerie De L'Abbaye De La Celle, La Celle)
*Reine Sammut (Auberge La Fenière, Lourmarin)
*Xavier Mathieu (Le Phebus, Joucas)
*Robert Lalleman (Auberge de Noves, Noves)
*Thibaut Serin-Moulin (Restaurant Valrugues, St. Remy)
 *Johan Thyriot (Meo, Tarascon)

For restaurants elsewhere in France, click here.

And to find a restaurant in another country, click here.

In the US, there were 45 restaurants participating at last count, and you can see them all listed here.

At his three Bouchon Bistros (in Las Vegas, Yountville, and Beverly Hills), Thomas Keller’s Goût de France menu starts with foie gras cromesquis (foie gras that’s been cured, poached, breaded, and fried, like a fritter), then moves on to saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage in brioche, with marinated vegetables, Dijon mustard, and garden mâche) and selle d’agneau rotie et farcie (herb-stuffed Elysian Fields lamb saddle with spring beans and English peas with mint-scented lamb jus). The cheese will be Camembert Le Châtelain (with rhubarb compote and black pepper pistachio pain de campagne), and the dessert, an opera cake (almond sponge with coffee and chocolate butter cream). The menu is priced at $65, with wine pairings offered for an extra $45. Seats are still available at all three locations. 

“Even though this is a one-day event, for Bouchon it’s all about paying homage to the core values we embody as a French bistro every day,” Keller says. "For Americans, Goût de France is really about discovering an appreciation for French culture through cuisine that’s responsibly prepared with high-quality ingredients and execution. We’re proud to represent the United States in this worldwide celebration.” 

At Jade Mountain on St. Lucia in the Caribbean, executive chef Jeffrey Forrest has infused his Goût de France menu with a wide range of local ingredients. He'll be serving roasted cabbage with toasted farro, christophene and a lime-curry nage; cured lionfish with passion-fruit caviar; fromage frais with papaya mustard; "wahoo aubergine" and a chocolate mousse made from from chocolate grown and produced onsite. (Full menu details are here.)

"Jade Cuisine embraces the French concepts of culinary exploration and the use of fresh farm-to-table ingredients," Forrest says. "Our resort runs its own organic plantation producing fruits, vegetables and spices such as turmeric, cashews, tamarind, mango, avocado, oranges, tangerines, guavas, papaya, coconut, breadfruit, yams and sweet potatoes. Cocoa plants are numerous on the grounds for guest to see and for the resort to produce their own chocolates.  We completely embrace the French philosophy and principles of high-quality, environmentally responsible cuisine."
So why this promo and why now? No one is addressing that exactly, but French chefs have come under fire in recent years, accused of serving frozen rather than freshly made food, high menu prices, failure to keep up with global culinary trends, failure to innovate, and the sin of “aesthetic snobbery” — meaning hiring only the prettiest people and seating guests according to attractiveness.
Ducasse and his culinary comrades have worked tirelessly to counter these attacks through a wide range of initiatives, of which Goût de France is the latest. ''In the space of around two months, we received and approved applications from over 1,300 restaurants throughout the world,'' he says. ''This is certainly food for thought for all those who love to talk about the decline of French cuisine.” (And what will Ducasse serve on this special night? His restaurants and their Goût de France menus and prices are here.)

“France is well known as the country of art de vivre,” says Parisian chef Guy Savoy, “and cooking, of course, belongs to that art de vivre. As cooks, our craft is to make our guests happy… and we want to share it, show it, promote it." He adds, “French cuisine is built on ancestral know-how, and is wide open to the future.” Savoy’s menu is here, but the dinner (at 380€ per person) is fully booked.

At the restaurant Pavillon in the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Michelin-starred chef Laurent Eperon calls Goût de France an exceptional way to preserve the ideals and pleasures of French gastronomy. “In my humble opinion as a Frenchman, French is the best cuisine of all!” he proclaims. “I’d love to see Goût de France happen annually. The world could always use more French cuisine!” Eperon’s $160 menu for the occasion is here.

Quite a few chefs told me they hope this will be the start of something big, a regular event that will keep growing as time goes on. "I am so happy and proud to celebrate the French gastronomy in the world!" proclaims Laetitia Rouabah, chef at Allard restaurant in Paris. "Good France was able to gather more than 1300 chefs all around the world and that is wonderful ! I sincerely hope that after this first edition, other initiatives like this will follow to promote the French cuisine all around the world." To see Allard's 85€ menu (140€ with wine pairings), click here.

Ducasse, for his part, says the initiative has already satisfied one of his major goals: to illustrate how French-trained chefs are respecting the traditions of the French kitchen while tweaking them to make vibrant, modern and highly personal cuisine. 

“When I look at all the chefs participating,” he says, “I’m struck by their great diversity... all generations and styles of restaurant are represented. The influence of French cuisine can be seen in this human chain of men and women, whose professional roots extend far back into great French culinary traditions. It’s a brotherhood of professionals who share and uphold the same values worldwide." But, he adds, “The main point of this event is generosity and sharing, and a love for what’s beautiful and tastes good.”

For all the info, visit They’re also on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Photos: One thousand chefs in 1300 restaurants worldwide will be serving Goût de France dinners on Thursday night. Top photo: Event organizers gathered for their close up, which in this case was more like a far away. (2, 3, 4) Jade Mountain on St. Lucia, Benoit in NYC and Pavillon in Zurich will all be strutting their best culinary stuff. (5) At Thomas Keller's three Bouchon Bistros, one course will be this herb-stuffed lamb saddle with spring beans, English peas and mint-scented jus. (6) Laetitia Rouabah at Allard in Paris. (7-13) The large number of chefs participating in the South of France include: Paolo Sari (Elsa in the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel), Olivier Rathery (with wife Sylvie) at Le Gout des Choses in Marseille, Xavier Mathieu (Le Phebus, Joucas), Noel Mantel (Mantel, Cannes), Johan Thyriot (Meo, Tarascon), Alexandre Lechene (Le Roc Alto, Saint Veran) and many more. (14) The logo.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Advance Screenings of Cinderella for Charity

Every year the Rotary Clubs of France and their local chapters stage a fundraiser for brain research, in conjunction with Disney in France, which generously provides a new, not-yet-premiered film.  The beneficiary is the Federation pour le recherché sur le cerveau (FRC).

This year, the movie is Cinderella (Cendrillon, in French), which officially premiers in the US and France on March 25. Helena Bonham Carter plays the Fairy Godmother and Cate Blanchett, stepmother Lady Tremaine. Lily James plays Cinderella and Richard Madden is Prince Charming. The new film was directed by Kenneth Branagh.

My favorite line from the movie’s press release: Wouldn't you prefer to eat when all the work is done, Ella?

The fundraiser screenings will be Tuesday March 17 and 450 theaters throughout France, Belgium and Luxembourg will participate. Most theaters will show the film in French only but some will also have it in English.

In my village of St. Remy, for example, the Rotary Club des Baux de Provence will host two screenings: one in French and one in English. The French version will be at 6:30 pm at Cine Palace; the English version will follow, at 9 pm.

Tickets are 15€, of which 8€ goes to the charity. Each adult ticket includes one free child's ticket...but two free kids only per family, please.

Screenings will also happen in Arles, Tarascon, Avignon, Marseilles, Nimes and elsewhere…across the Cote d’Azur and in Paris. For a full list of participating theaters, click here. Tickets will be available at all box offices.

“This is a cause we love to support,” says Larry Ware, president of the Rotary Club des Baux. “And a nice way for the Anglo community in Provence—and visitors--to get together and participate.”

To purchase advance tickets to the St. Remy screening, contact: Gérard Bodel: 06 14 34 99 95 or

For info on the Rotary Club in France, click here. For the regional Provence site, click here.

And while I have you here, the Rotary Club des Baux (in the Alpilles region) is actively seeking new members. For info, contact Larry:, 04 90 93 15 42 or 06 19 05 31 90. The men-only group is mostly French--with a smattering of members from Belgium, Japan, USA, Germany and Spain--and Larry tells me they'd love to have more expats in the group. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Brocantes in Provence

Above: Two popular ways to find brocantes and vide greniers are signs like this one...and the website
Grant Innes has filled his beautiful old farmhouse in Maussane with antiques and brocante items found locally.
"I have a fetish for silver cutlery," Grant says. "I can spend hours on the hottest summer day, searching hundreds of stands for a dusty, tarnished old set of flatware, the one that, with a bit of spit and polish, will look like a million bucks. You can find wonderful brands like Ercuis, Christofle and Ravinet D'Enfert. They make lovely gifts too." 
(Five photos) More of Grant's favorite finds. He paid 9€ each for his Napoleon and Josephine plates...and 50€ for the Champagne bucket. Lots of brocante loot is on display in his open living room, dining room and kitchen.
Blogger/brocante maven Corey Amaro found a "transition period" pair of armchairs in seafoam colored leather for 500€ at the brocante in Barjac, one of her favorites.
More of Corey's found treasures.
For her house in St. Remy, my friend Karen Pohlman is making a pillow from the old French postal sack she found at Emmaus. You can buy the pillow above here.

Antiquing is a both a national pastime and competitive sport in France...and Provence is known to have some of the finest antiquing in all the land. But it's also know to be expensive, unless you know where to go.

The great American tradition of the rummage sale, yard sale, garage sale or estate sale doesn't exist here. (Actually, when I wanted to have one in my driveway, I was told it's illegal. Yep, I did it anyway...and sold nothing. But I had fun giving things away to passers-by!)

What does exist here is a wide range of other ways to buy old things, from the very cheapest cr*p to the most-exquisite antiques. 

Locals who love antiquing tend to follow the circuit...meaning they know which village to go to when...and where they're most likely to find things they love at fair prices. But for tourists--and those of us who love brocante but don't follow the scene closely--the code can be a bit tough to crack. And that's where the terrific website comes in....and there's more info on that below. 

First, here's some general info and popular places to get you started.

The village of Isle sur la Sorgue is the epicenter...a major antiques center for all of Europe. In addition to the items sold at the huge weekly Sunday morning market, there are as many as 250 antique shops and malls (with multiple vendors) spread out around the village. Keep in mind that many shops and stalls/malls are open on weekends only; others are Thursday through Sunday.

Then, there are second-hand shops such as the Depot Vente in Eygalieres...and the European chain known as Troc. These shops tend to take old items on commission rather than buy them from owners outright. While the selection is generally of lesser quality than what you'll find in the shops of Isle sur la Sorgue, people have been known to happen on screaming good deals. These shops can quickly feed your addiction for second-hand treasures with a quick, cheap hit: dishes, small pieces of furniture (side tables, etc.), lamps, art, linens, jewelry, books, etc. You’ll also find huge pieces of wood furniture...not particularly beautiful but heavy, well made and inexpensive...and lots of not-so-pretty couches. Shops like these can be a good source for what’s known in the business as smalls; see what the New York Times says about smalls here

Around France, you'll also see shops with Troc in the name that aren't part of this national chain; some sell clothes only, others, a bit of everything. If you see "Troc" on the sign, it could be pop in. 

Then there are charity shops such as Emmaus near Arles (on the D570, also known as the Route Saintes Maries de la Mer, phone 04 90 49 79 76). Here people donate their old things and the proceeds benefit a specific community, charity or cause. The equivalent in the US would be Salvation Army or Goodwill. Again, you're not likely to find a precious treasure...but it’s been known to happen. On the first Saturday of every month at 9 am, this particular Emmaus (there are others around France) opens the “special room” where they gather the best stuff all month. My friend Karen Pohlman went a few weeks ago and found a 7€ vintage linen La Poste mail bag, from which she plans to make pillow for her St. Remy rental house. “It’s a pickers’ paradise,” she says, “but you really need to dig.” (To see Karen's house, click here.)

Some weekly village markets, such as the Sunday one in Isle sur la Sorgue, have old furniture, decorative items and addition to all the usual market items such as food, clothing, jewelry, linens and more. The Wednesday market in St. Remy, for example, almost always has a couple vendors selling small antique items such as tableware, artwork, pottery, decorative items and small pieces of furniture.

Moving on...most villages of any size have certain days of the year set aside for a community brocante or vide grenier. (At a brocante you’ll find more antiques and more dealers selling, whereas a vide grenier--literally, “empty attic”--is more of a rummage sale with more individuals selling.) They're announced via signs (pasted to trees and light poles, usually) and they happen in parks, parking lots and town squares. Blogger Corey Amaro, a passionate brocanter who features many of her finds in her online shop here, says one of her favorites is the one in Barjac, which happens twice a year: the week before Easter and again around the 15th of August. Corey used lots of her finds to decorate her own home in Provence, of course, but also her Paris rental apartment here

Corey says she tends to have good luck at the smaller brocantes organized by Jean-Marie Dropsy, who does at least one brocante a month, with nearly 200 dealers. "I find most of my smalls there,” she reports. "I know for example that when I see Mr. Dropsy's name on Brocabrac, the fair will be good...he has dealers that follow him yearly." You can also find his brocantes listed on his blog or on under the company name Utopies et Lumieres. Or, you an call email him (utopies-lumiè or call him: +33 (0)6 17 80 07 36.

Moving on...on certain days of the week, some villages have a weekly brocante, vide grenier or marché aux puces (flea market).  The vide grenier on Wednesday morning in Beaucaire comes to mind, held in a pretty, tree-shaded park by the Rhône River. Three other examples are all day Sunday in Carpentras; Saturday and Sunday mornings in Mornas (just off the A7 north of Orange) and every Sunday in Jonquieres (in the Vaucluse).

A very nice brocante (known for high quality and good prices) is every Saturday morning in Villeneuve lez Avignon, across the Rhône from Avignon.

Most markets and many brocantes and vide greniers finish up around 1 pm...but if sales are strong, the vendors stay on longer. Some go all day so make sure to check.

The city of Arles has an all-day (8 am to 6 pm) Foire à la Brocante the first Wednesday of every month.  My friend Jill Mitchell reports: “The weekly Arles brocante is friendly with lots of charm, a good selection and good prices." The brocante is on the Boulevard des Lices, the same grand street where the large Saturday morning market is held. The Arles Tourist Office tells me to expect roughly 50 exhibitors at this brocante year round, with as many as 60 in April and May.

Still another way to feed your antiquing fever is at one of the large antique fairs or foires. Two of the biggest ones in Europe are held each year in Isle sur la Sorgue: one over Easter weekend (April 2 to 6, 2015) and one the weekend of August 15. There you'll find hundreds of vendors selling all over town. You can try their website here but it’s a bit maddening as some of the info is two years old. The Isle sur la Sorgue Tourist Office website here should have complete info as the event draws closer.

Having never been to this particular Isle sur la Sorgue fair, I asked Jill Mitchell—who leads antiquing trips in Provence and sells French vintage goods on Etsy and Ebay--what she thinks of it. "It's very good," she reports, "offering an amped up version of the regular Sunday market, with vendors often coming from around Europe. My two cents though, is that on any Sunday of the year, Isle sur la Sorgue is already so abundant with fantastic items (nearly to the point of overwhelm) that it's a great destination either way. In general, however, prices in L'Isle are much higher than you'll find in other city and village markets in Provence. The rule is, using the price for an item bought in Marseille as a base, add 35% for the same item for the Isle sur la Sorgue price and add another 35% to that for the Paris price."

And yet another big foire (also known as a déballage, which means unpacking) happens in an Avignon expo park seven times a year--roughly every six weeks--but you need to have professional credentials to get in (the info is here). A friend who’s been reports: “It’s a wonderful collection of some very fine antiques. Mostly dealers buying for their shops. Good prices and some room for negotiation. Things sell very fast so you need to make quick decisions.  Mostly indoors in multiple buildings and some on lots outside.” Beziers and Montpellier have similar déballages.

Of course you’ll find examples of all the above all throughout France, not just here in the South. The annual Grande Braderie of Lille (in northern France), for example, is a mega-brocante, with a reported 200 km (125 miles) of stalls. I’m told it dates to the 12th century and attracts as many as 10,000 sellers. It takes place the first weekend in September. Let’s go! 

Ok so what about  I learned about it just last week at dinner at the vacation home of my friend Grant Innes. I was admiring all his wonderful antiques and objets...and he told me that most came from local antique shops, brocantes and vide greniers. Grant's been collecting for years and uses Brocabrac religiously to plan his forays. He says his favorite find ever was the pair of blue and white Delft-style plates pictured above--one with image of Napoléon, the other, Josephine--that now hang on the wall in his dining room. The plates were 9€ each, at a vide grenier in Carpentras. His more-recent purchases include the elegant seau à Champagne also pictured above, from a pop-up brocante in Sénas for 50€, and a set of nine Salvador Dali plates for 10€. 

Grant likes to plan ahead, checking the Brocobrac site the day before he heads out. “Then I get on the road early with my dog, Luca,” he reports, “and we make a day of it, visiting up to five or six different towns. It’s a lovely way to explore Provence.”

The Brocabrac site is only in French but it's easy to figure out. Just find your region on the map, click it...and wait for the list to appear on the right. What's great is the site shows you what's happening today, this week...and for quite a few weeks to come. 

For brocante beginners, Grant's best advice is: dress down, carry coins and small bills, try to haggle if that’s your thing, always start any inquiry with “bonjour Monsieur or Madame”...and above all, be polite and respectful. He also suggests you have a couple sturdy shopping bags in your trunk, plus newspaper and bubble wrap, “because you may find the perfect set of Baccarat wine goblets but not in the original packaging.” Bring water in summer, he adds, because brocantes and vide greniers are often held in open parking lots or sports fields, in direct sun.

So that's the general lay of the land. Obviously, you're not going to find the same things at a flea market in a dusty field as you will at a high-end antiques show...but both are fun and could be fruitful! So have at it...good luck...and let me know what you find! And if you have a favorite shop or regular brocante you care to share, please leave it as a comment below.