An Irish Chef in France

The end of a year, particularly when it coincides with the end of a decade is a time when one starts to look back and examine your last few years.

For the Dwyer family it also coincides with the end of our first decade in France. Although we bought Le Presbytere in December 2006 we didn’t move full time until the summer of 2009 and were ready for our first guests in September of that year.

It has been an interesting time and it is particularly interesting to think about the way both France and Ireland have changed over this decade.

Let us look at Ireland first.

Leaving Ireland when we did has coincided with the birth of an exciting change of attitude to food in my old home. This of course didn’t come from nowhere.

The seeds were well sown by people like Myrtle Allen in Ballymaloe and Dermot and Michael Ryan of Arbutus Lodge in Cork. They inspired a generation of Chefs to re-examine our own national cuisine and start producing food which reflected what our land and our farmers were producing. This movement was of course also an inspiration to our food producers and we are now all familiar with the amazing birth of an artisanal food industry which sprung from Veronica Steele looking for a way to use up her surplus milk in her small farm in Milleens in West Cork.

We may have all helped this movement in our own way. Euro-Toques, the international organisation of Chefs (led in Ireland by Myrtle Allen) did and does an excellent job of spreading the word of quality and honesty in our restaurants and also the organisation was one of the first to start a system of awards to reward excellence in producers and also a young chef’s award to nurture and encourage young talent in the industry.

We have seen this flower in the last few years as now Ireland is recognised as a serious food destination and indeed The Guide Michelin in its latest edition have awarded a record number of stars to Ireland.

The situation here in France is quite different; of course they started from a very different place than Ireland at the start of the century.

The French have always been great respecters of tradition and always had a great love of cooking and eating well.

I get a lot of people who arrive to us from Ireland and claim that the French have lost that tradition and that now “You can eat better in Ireland”.

I have actually been watching this with some interest and of course like many clichés there is some truth in it.

The rise of the Pizza and Burger restaurants has happened in France as it has all over the world . These can be bad as fast food chains often are, but I have discovered that most towns will also host a family run restaurant where the old French traditions of food still rule.

It is also significant that (as is also happening in Ireland) there are young chefs who are starting to produce excellent food in small, not necessarily luxurious establishments. One such has happened in our own village where a young couple have opened an excellent restaurant and appear to be doing extremely well. Another young couple opened a small restaurant in a nearby village, this pair (an Irish Chef and a French Maitresse d’Hotel) run an excellent establishment and last year were awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand . It is interesting to wonder if this could have happened twenty years ago.

And so to reflect on our ten years in France, it is heartening to see that Ireland has developed a thriving food culture since we left – and, in France, it is possibly taking them a little longer to learn how to adapt to the twenty first century but there is strong evidence that they will get there.

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