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Euro-Toques chef Martin Dwyer, is much missed in Ireland since he and his wife Sile sold their eponymous restaurant in Waterford and moved to France. They now live in the Languedoc, where they take guests - and feed them very well.
This month: On French School Meals
Running a chambre d'hote in France, which also serves table d'hote meals to guests, you get a real insight into the eating habits of various nations.
As we don't offer choices on our table d'hote meals we always ask in advance if anyone has any foods which they don't want served. Most people are fine, will try anything- of course there are people with genuine dietary problems, which we cater for, but also there are people who give you a long list of foods which they don't like.
Sometimes, and this seems to apply particularly to children, this list can be quite long. We have noticed, over the years one national difference: The French, and particularly French children, are certainly much less fussy when it comes to food.
Children in France tend to eat, and with relish, what you serve them. We imagined initially that this was just a demonstration of the French attitude to food but we have realised over the years that it has much more to do with school meals.
All schools in France serve a proper lunch to their pupils, usually coming from a serious dedicated kitchen on the premises. Our neighbour’s son, who is a structural engineer, told me that the specifications for a school kitchen were exactly the same as those for a small hotel.
Every week in the Mairie in the village the menus for the school lunches are listed. This is usually three courses and very similar to the choices you would get in a simple table d’hote in a busy restaurant. The meals are supervised and nutritionally balanced but also basically adult food with none of the chicken nuggets and fish fingers being offered as “Children’s Menus “in Ireland.
In 2004 and 2005 when I was chief commissioner for Euro Toques Ireland I made it my special mission to try and improve the quality of the food we served to children in restaurants. One of the first things we discovered was that the reason for the paucity of choice on the typical children’s menu was that by the time children went to school in Ireland they were already picking from a very limited choice of foods from home, and so were not inclined to step outside these choices to experience newer tastes.
We in Euro Toques did some days in Primary schools around the country and one of the better discoveries was that the emigrant children from other countries were much more open to new tastes and flavours and that they encouraged our Irish children to expand their range of tastes. I notice that Bord Bia now operate a similar programme in Irish schools.
I am impressed to see in this month's Journal de Beziers that Pierre Augé, from the well-known Petit Pierre Restaurant, which has been awarded an “Assiette” from Michelin (and he was a finalist in the French Master Chef) has now been called in as consultant to oversee the food in the schools in Beziers. A step in the right direction.
If our children are not encouraged to experiment with new tastes and flavours it does not bode well for our next generation of chefs.
Martin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent he opened his own much acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.
Le Presbytère can be seen at: www.lepresbytere.net;