An Irish Chef in France

The French don’t like to throw stuff away, when an artefact, a piece of clothing or furniture becomes redundant they much prefer to sell it.

There are various levels on which it is possible to sell these pieces from the past. Antiquités, or Antique Shops are the places where the plum pieces are sold and they are the places where you can expect to spend money. Next level down is the Brocante, these are, I suppose, roughly the equivalent of junk shops in Ireland and where you can find bargains from the past or pick up something vintage at less than half the price of buying it new.

The third level is the Vide Grenier - the Empty Attic - and these are usually village sales where all the tat from Granny’s attic are put out on tables in the village square and offered, without shame, for sale.

This is the place to find bargains. But you must be prepared to look hard.

We were drawn to these village sales first by our pursuit of French glasses. These are classic café glasses usually sold as Absinthe glasses in the Antique or Brocante shops but the truth of the matter is that they were the sturdy drinking glasses of the people and used at home and in cafés to drink wine and water. I remember buying one in a country sale for a couple of euro and seeing his identical twin for sale in the Marché aux Puces in Paris for ten times that amount.

Of course not everything for sale on a stall in a Vide Grenier is a bargain. Most things are tat; in fact I would put the tat level up at around 99% so you need an eagle eye and a lot of patience to find the treasures among the dross.

As I said you must have patience and also a good eye. We started looking for glasses on stalls but soon realised that there were other things available at a fraction of their retail cost. We have furnished the Presbytère with a lot of Vide Grenier finds, beautiful chairs with cane seats, which are perfect for guest rooms, glass lampshades which were from the beginning of the last century, Sile has bought beautiful linen sheets, probably part of a bride’s trousseau, and as well as using them for their original purpose, she has used the great lengths of old linen to make curtains for the Presbytere windows and pillowslips for the beds.

Of course, as time went on for us in France and as we visited more Vide Greniers, we began to fill our own attic full of junk. We did however have one last bit of equipment we were searching for. It is our custom in Le Presbytère to offer or guests, as an aperitif, a glass of the local sparkling wine from Limoux. I had bought - I think for about €40, a particularly fine champagne flute which was from the turn of the last century and came from Alsace.

It was near the end of the day in a local village when I spotted ten of them, a not quite matching set, lined up on a stall. “How much are they” I asked Monsieur. “Dix euro,” he said. Ten euro - now this was a bargain, the whole ten for a mere hundred Euros - but I didn’t have €100 on me and while I was trying to put into French a request to pay by cheque I produced my last tenner from my wallet.

“C’est bon” said monsieur, whisked the tenner from my fingers and proceeded to wrap the glasses in old newspapers. I suddenly realised that he meant €10 for the entire collection and tried to hide the glee from my face.

This was certainly my best Vide Grenier bargain, and these beauties have served sparkling wine now, from the terrace of the Presbytère, many hundreds of times since their purchase.

ABOUT: Euro-Toques chef Martin Dwyer and his wife Sile sold their eponymous Waterford restaurant in 2004 and moved to France. They now live in the Languedoc, where they take guests - and feed them very well.

Martin 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 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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