An Irish Chef in France

The Vine

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 Shopping in France

Shopping in France when you have eight guests staying can be an intense, frustrating, long and even dramatic experience as happened one day last week.

A family in the village of Thezan produce what is simply the best Asparagus around. They sell this from their garage which they have adapted to a small asparagus production with a washer and a sorting machine.

They put their signs up on Monday "Last week of Asparagus, open at 9.00 tomorrow”. By the time I got down, at 6 minutes past nine, there were already seven people queueing up, in full sun, at the door. Monsieur was there, shrugging apologetically - Madame was not yet back from the field with today’s crop. Nobody moved. Good asparagus is worth waiting for.

At 9.15 Madame and her pickers (her two grown children I reckon) arrive back from the fields and haul the many boxes of various sized asparagus to the back of the garage where Granny and Grandad are waiting to start the cleaning and sorting.

In the meantime we the queue are standing in the sun waiting. Perhaps I should add at this stage that very frequently in the course of the brief asparagus season they have run out of asparagus by 10.30. It doesn't pay to be late.

Most people seemed to be taking more than a kilo so, as number eight in the queue I was hoping I was not going to be too late. (Numbers nine, ten eleven and twelve were also anxious and kept making little sorties forward to check the boxes.)

Meanwhile the whole family were running backwards and forwards to keep abreast of the customers’ demands. Eventually I get up to number one position and am greeted with a "Bon Jour Chef !" and a hand shake by Monsieur. (This is a civilised country) I ask for my two kilos of the Sept (a medium grade, €7 a kilo.) and with much scurrying back and forth M. manages to put it together for me. This is accompanied by much chat and banter between us - made all the more interesting by the fact that I cannot penetrate his thick accent and he appears equally baffled by my French. However after a mere 35 minutes of queueing in the hot sun I am well rewarded by two kilos of superb asparagus.

Next stop the butchers for the lamb for dinner (they get exquisite lamb from relatives in the mountains of the Ardeche). There is just one lady in the shop, a pretty blonde lady of about 25 with a little 2 year old boy.

While I wait for Mathieu, the son of the house to finish her purchases she suddenly collapses gently onto the floor next to me. Mathieu calls his mother, Natalie, out from the back, she is obviously trained in first aid and immediately attends to Madame, Mathieu is phoning emergencies on her instructions and she tells me (we are old friends) to take the child away.

With some foreboding I put my arms out to the little boy who immediately and happily comes to me. And so I spend the next ten to fifteen minutes walking around the back of the shop, where his mother is out of sight, with this lovely trusting child in my arms while Natalie tries every trick in the book to rouse her back to consciousness.

The little boy and I get on fine and probably have about the same language skills. He doesn't cry or get upset at all. We talk about the pictures of the cows and the pigs on the walls while we await the ambulance.

Unfortunately Madame is still unconscious when the ambulance arrive and Natalie, who has been kneeling by her for about 15 minutes (and whose back is not great) manages to straighten up as they take Madame away in the ambulance. She comes over to me and gently takes the child into her arms.

Mathieu gives me my shoulders of lamb, the little boy waves good bye to me smiling and calls me “Papi” - obviously I was like his grandfather. The lady is a total stranger to Natalie but she was going to take the child home with her until they could find a relative. (I have since heard from Natalie that the lady is fine and the child is with his father.)

Next stop is at the Olive Farm; Domaine Pradines le Bas, where Madame produces about six varieties of excellent olive oil from her own trees, I buy 3 Litres of “Olivier”, my favourite, a wonderful fruity oil, which comes in a thick plastic bag with a tap and costs a small fortune. (When you taste the vinaigrette which this makes you realise it is worth every penny.)

Just across the road from the Olive farm is the producers market, La Ferme Biterroise, where I buy some strawberries from Portiragnes, which is a few miles down the coast on the shores of the Mediterranean. There they take advantage of the mild climate by producing early strawberries which, though large, are amazingly ripe and sweet. In the Ferme I also buy some of the first new potatoes, again very local, and some courgettes for the dinner.

The last stop on my shopping round is the local Super U supermarket. There I stock up on the basics, but which because this is France also have a large selection of local vegetables and some excellent but expensive fish from the auction in nearby Agde.

When I get back to my kitchen I realise that this excursion, which is, after all just for tonight’s dinner for me and my guests, has taken nearly three hours out of my day.

But then, tonight when I tuck into my delicious dinner, when I savour the freshest and juiciest asparagus (with Maltaise Sauce - Hollandaise, acidulated with the zest of a Seville Orange which I have husbanded in the freezer since February for just such an occasion) then taste the wonderful tender sweet lamb from the mountains (I have boned the shoulders and slow roasted them stuffed with garlic and rosemary and thyme from the Garrigue) and finished with the strawberries served with fennel scented shortbreads which I made from a recipe I found in Corsica, then I realise that I bear no resentment for all the time spent in shopping : It was all well worth while.


Martin & Sile DwyerMartin 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:



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