This article first appeared in the Sunday Times SA on 18 March 2018
Mesdames and Messieurs, prepare your palettes as over the next 7 days, the 4th annual Goût de France – Good France initiative will be bringing a taste of France to a menu near you.
Vincent Lucas, owner-chef of the one-Michelin Star Etincelles in the small Aquitainian village of Sainte-Sabine-Born, is the Goût de France – Good France envoy to South Africa this year and he is relishing this opportunity to foster gastronomic diplomacy.
Lucas, who has worked in top end kitchens from Oxford to Paris, hails from Nice where he trained at the Paul Augier Hotel and Catering School. He is understandably precious about protecting the identity of French cuisine, especially off shore, and sharing this passion is his raison d’être. It comes down to ‘Francization’ over globalisation, and he makes a concerted effort to reinvigorate his country’s fare, changing up well respected dishes while staying true to ancient traditions and the discerning diners who cross his threshold in Dordogne.
Vincent is unorthodox and favours spontaneity. There is no set menu at Etincelles and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will be served up when you visit. Inspiration comes as he walks through his garden each morning and mood dictates creation. The only sure thing is thats you will be transported by the perfection on your plate and it is the anticipation of this that contributes to the success of the restaurant that is open throughout the year except for one week in July. Etincelles, which means ‘Sparks’ is situated in Lucas’s home and doubles as a boutique guest house with four suites. Lucas, who works side by side with his wife Anne, describes the cosy manor house as being at the gate of the Bordeaux and Bergerac vineyard, between the crimson Perigord region and Pays des Bastides countryside, a haven “for relaxation, wellbeing and conviviality, where happiness will meet you for a shared moment of culture and gastronomy.”
Vincent is all about culinary co-operation and has great respect for artisans with specific skillsets that perhaps outrank his own. “I would rather order in pastries and ice cream from my local patissier or glacier for instance, so I can focus on what I’m best at,” he said over tea at the Silo Hotel in Cape Town. It is in this spirit of collaboration that he has embraced his role in Goût de France – Good France SA. “Talking with local chefs and combining South African ingredients, specialities and produce like Karoo lamb, gambas and kingklip with French style cuisine is a journey of discovery and experimentation and I’m very excited at the prospects and possibilities. Goût de France is an extension of what I cherish.”
Herein lies the essence of Goût de France, a concept that is being driven by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, in association with another legendary chef, Alain Ducasse of Le Meurice in Paris. The ambitious initiative involves 22 South African restaurants and will unite 3000 chefs across five continents to bring untold joy to 250,000 gastrophiles in joie de vivre, optimism and pleasure that are central to the identity and image of France.
Whether feasting in haute or humble surroundings, menus presented during Goût de France-Good France week will offer multiple courses and be a fusion of French tradition and modernity, crafted with South African flair and incorporating regional produce paired with outstanding local wines.
The Good France gospel is about embracing and respecting differences, the exchange of recipes and forging of new relationships. Vive culinary Ubuntu, let’s eat!
For a list of participating restaurants throughout South Africa, visit za.ambafrance.org