Each time, it’s the same reaction. The jaw opens and the eyes widen: wonder wins the hearts of the participants when, at the bend of the small dirt road, the lavender field, the dike or the museum, a banquet suddenly appears. A long welcoming table, placed where you least expect it, in the heart of nature, in historical or cultural sites or industrial wastelands. An offbeat setting like the promise of an unusual meal in an ephemeral “restaurant”.
A huge table for 150 guests thus meandered on March 25 between the magnificent wooden frames of the Grande Saline in Salins-les-Bains (Jura). After visiting this UNESCO-listed regional emblem, guests were offered an aperitif and gougères before tasting the four-handed meal by chefs Chloé Charles (Lago, in Paris) and Joël Cesari (La Chaumière, in Dole) . On the menu: dishes with Comté cheese and a presentation of the players in the production of the famous cheese.
This extraordinary feast was the second in a series of seven, baptized “Le Temps du Comté”, organized free of charge until the end of the year by the sector (registration on Letempsducomte. com). “I am happy when people leave having learned things about the county, explains Anne Etorre, producer of the event. Today it’s easy and fashionable to set a pretty table with candles in a field, but what interests me is that there is meaning. »
For the next meal, on May 27, the incredible table of the architect Olivier Vadrot will settle in Mignovillard in a forest of spruces, the wood on which the county is refined, with the cooks Sarah Chougnet and Jacques Barnachon. In June, other chefs will be cooking in the pastures of Haut-Doubs or at the Musée du Temps in Besançon (Doubs), a nod to the length of cheese ripening.
Sharing at the same level as the plate
In soft, the kitchen escapes from the kitchens. She resumes her rights outside the walls, far from restaurants and reality TV shows. On the sidelines of a Parisian gastronomy that is struggling to shake up codes and recover from the Covid, a culinary form appears that puts sharing on the same level as the plate.
Events flourish everywhere in France: every autumn, Goûts de Rennes sets the table in hangars or museums under construction; last week, the Confit! in Cavaillon (Vaucluse) staged chefs and artists. In Le Mans (Sarthe), La Scène Nationale hosts meal-theatre performances, such as the Rose des Vents, a “little cook theater” itinerant, gourmet and musical around the bouillabaisse. Finally, every July, the Unusual Dinners take over all of the Bouches-du-Rhône with spectacular performances on the Digue du Large in Marseille, at the Martigues power plant, at the Château des Baux or in the middle of the vineyards…
Every dinner becomes a gateway to works of art
Headed by Provence Tourisme, produced by Les Grandes Tables in Marseille, the Unusual Dinners, as well as the previous festivals, would not exist without the creativity of Emmanuel Perrodin. More than a nomadic cook, the man is also a historian, artistic director and beautifully obsessed with “cooking as a language” who says something. “You have to go to the end of the concept and make sure that a meal is a chapter in a bigger story, he explains. Each dinner becomes a gateway to works of art or participates in the mapping of a territory… We seek culture where you don’t think you’ll find it. »
This dialogue without elitism between the stoves, art and nature makes the table a central character: “We explore its diversity: in Provence, it is straight and carved out of a single tree. Another was built over the meal. That of the Rose des Vents hovered 20 meters high before descending in front of the public. » A living, modular and traveling table that adapts to all territories.
Cooking in the maquis
Once the places have been identified, you still have to find the right cast of cooks. Those who have the experience and a certain taste for risk to cook outside, without professional stoves. “Their challenge is to develop a menu with the minimum, says Anne Etorre, of County Times. For example, to dine in the tranquility of a forest, you have to remove the generator. » Some people hate stepping out of their comfort zone, others love it and leave with reinvigorated creativity. “It’s the antithesis of reality TV cooking that values egos and a competitive spirit, continues the producer. We return to the values of sharing cooking and the notion of feeding people. »
It’s the antithesis of reality TV cooking that values egos and a competitive spirit.
Anne Etorre, producer of “Times of the county”
This is also Jean-Antoine Ottavi’s credo. For five years, this Corsican cook has been spotting the most breathtaking landscapes on his island and setting up intimate tables in the middle of nature (@ja.corsica on Instagram). In the middle of the maquis or facing the sea, with two stoves and a few saucepans, he sends out great dishes served on the plate: rack of veal, langoustine risotto, cromesquis of pig’s trotters or cheese fritters. “Nature is the most beautiful cuisine in the world because all your senses are awakened and the show is always magical, he believes. Well, it’s difficult to cook like this, you have to organize yourself, adapt to the weather. But then you can cook everywhere! »
Local enhancement and openness
The public asks for more: “The 3,000 seats for the twenty unusual dinners are snapped up, observes Isabelle Brémond, director of Provence Tourisme (Mpgastronomie.fr). They show the best of our region through its gastronomy: people are welcomed with bread, olive oil and wine. » A local enhancement that never falls into the claim of identity, thanks to the openness to chefs from elsewhere, from Normandy to Japan: “The richness of cooking is the outside view of traditions, believes Emmanuel Perrodin. Self-centered territories always end up in gastronomic escheat. »
In Paris, gastronomy goes in circles. There are magnificent territories to explore
Alexandre Cammas, former Director of Fooding
In the same vein, Alexandre Cammas, the former director of the guide foodorganizes on May 27 and 28 in the heart of Aubrac the third edition of its Bon Esprit de clocher festival (Bonespritdeclocher. com): “It means that you can love the place you come from while welcoming others there. » In the village of his grandmother, in Cassuéjouls (Aveyron), gourmets will taste the grilled cheese with laguiole from Taka & Vermo (Paris), the kebab from the Aveyronnaise farm of Mayrinhac and the sandwiches from La Petite Auberge in Bezonnes, before to attend Bertrand Belin’s concert in the church and a DJ set at Colette, the village café.
Renowned chefs (Michel Bras, Giovanni Passerini, Alice Moireau) will even cook at the locals’ while meatballs and mac and cheese will be prepared in the 17th century wood-fired oven. A real rural bubble, mixed and friendly: “In Paris, gastronomy goes in circles, with dishes copied and pasted everywhere, observes Alexandre Cammas. There are magnificent territories to explore. The chefs who settle in the countryside make a kitchen in short circuits, less sophisticated and more shared. This is what people expect today. »