An Irish Chef in France

Historically the Chambre d’Hote in France predated the restaurant by many years. France is such a large area that a traveller would have to spend more than one night in rented beds if he wanted to travel from one end of the country to the other. In this way the practice of host families offering travellers food and a bed for the night became well-established long before the birth of the restaurant.

Restaurants commenced trading when cooks and servants who were no longer employed by the deposed (and sometimes be-headed) aristocracy after the French Revolution needed to use their skills differently. These people then started to sell “restorative” soup and so opened the first restaurants in Paris and the larger cities in France. The whole process of feeding guests in France in Chambres d’Hote is governed by tradition rather than legislation and one of the traditions is that the guests should eat at the same table, and eat the same food as the hosts.

This leads to a completely different relationship with ones customers and we find that eating and drinking around the table with the clients leads to a much closer and more relaxed atmosphere.

Since we ran our own restaurant, Dwyers, in Waterford for more than fifteen years we do find that a proportion of our visitors were also customers there. We also find that one gets to know these people better over a single night while eating on the terrace that we ever did even after many visits to the restaurant.

And that of course leads naturally to the other great difference of practice out here in France; this is that for fully six months of the year, here in the south of Europe, the weather is sufficiently benign to allow us to take our dinner outside on the terrace. Food, eaten outdoors,( to quote Enid Blyton) - always seems to taste just that little better, and certainly guests eating out are always that little bit more relaxed.

Fairly early on in Le Presbytere we discovered that the French system suited us well and made the whole business more enjoyable for us. A recently widowed lady from England joined our dinner table one night during our first year in business and was delighted to join the family table. She was touring France and had spent her previous dinners eating in solitary splendour on a small table in the corner of hotel dining rooms. She loved the friendliness of the Table d’Hote and has been back nearly every year since.

Of course eating out of doors does bring one that bit closer to nature. One summer we had a nightingale who lived in a local tree within earshot and would sing to us delightfully each evening as the night fell. Early evening is usually dominated by Swifts who make daring swoops as they chase each other around the terrace. One night one of the more daring miscalculated and ended stunned on the table beside a dish of potatoes. All the coaxing in the world could not persuade the bird to take off again from our hands and then - remembering that they cannot take off from the ground - we wrapped the Swift in a napkin and catapulted him into the sky where he became instantly airborne and flew off into the sunset.

But perhaps the greatest advantage of the French system, and that which makes our lives here more relaxed, is that our Table d’Hote method of offering dinner to our guests means that we offer them no choices of courses for dinner. We do of course ask dinner guests as they book to let us know if there are any foods which they would rather not have served, any allergies or dislikes. These we can then easily avoid when making up the menu for the night.

Often my Irish customers visiting in France ask me do I regret leaving Waterford and my restaurant there and moving to Le Presbytere in Languedoc.

I explain to them that I now eat my dinner from a menu of my own choice, around the table with my customers, outdoors to the sound of Swifts and Nightingales.

Yes in a way I do miss Ireland and the buzz of running a busy restaurant from a windowless kitchen but running a Chambre d’Hote here in France has its compensations.


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 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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