I love food! I love long, luscious meals, organic fare, experimental touches to delight the palate. My travel experiences are often focused on food, visiting restaurants in out of the way corners of the world, or in large cities. So when I was invited to participate in a fantastic dinner by candlelight in Paris a few weeks ago, seated between a Russian food journalist and two women from the Cordon Bleu cooking school, to watch part of the documentary series on the French/German Arte channel, I deeply enjoyed every minute.
Luke Burgess, the chef at Les Garagistes, on the island of Tasmania, can be found foraging in the suburban gardens of his neighbors in Hobarth, taking his employees on a road trip to visit the cattle which will end up on the plates at his restaurant, or in the itchen of his old friend, experimenting with new flavors, textures and culinary possibilities. The documentary, Le Bonheur est dans l'assiette on Arte simply made me want to move to Tasmania and eat at Les Garagistes as often as possible. The five part series visits restaurants and chefs in The Basque country, Benin, China, California and Tasmania, honoring the way five men celebrate not only food, but their local flora, fauna, citizens and life itself.
Some of the restaurants created by the chefs have been around a long time, others a few years, but all of them have something in common: a deep respect for seasonal, local food, sustainable agriculture, and the ecosystem which demands that we ask ourselves how we will live in the future. The values of these five chefs -- Arnaud Daguin, Luke Burgess, Godfrey Nzamujo, Dai Jianjun and David Kinch -- are aligned with their principles of sharing great meals while respecting the planet. Whether it be organic fruit, vegetables, meat and fish as in Luke Burgess' restaurant, or preserving traditional ways of both gardening and creating splendid dishes as Dai Jianjun does, these masters of the kitchen, remind us of how eating itself is part of the interconnected ecosystem which cannot be ignored.
These chefs know where their food is sourced and go as far as to make their own salt from seawater. They respect the men and women who provide them with the best quality this planet has to offer in terms of what we can taste, savour and share. Nourishment becomes passion, and each chef expresses his way of communicating this passion through glorious presnetation, time and care with preparation and smiles and deep contentment which shine through their eyes and smiles.
In the Basque country, Arnaud Daguin has created what can only be called a sublime space, Hegia. Hegia is housed in an 18th c. bastide and prepares sumptuous organic fare that is sourced from the Garroa project, at a lovely chateau, which has dedicated its grounds to sustainable agriculture, all supported by the local municipality. Other parts of the world could learn from this kind of collaboration.
In Tasmania, Luke Burgess seems to be living in a kind of modern day Utopia, where the cows are happy, the vegetables are grown by your best friend and the clients literally share tables and come away happy after a meal. The wine list is also extraordinary and includes local biodynamic wines as well as some of the best international labels. The care and kindness and deep understanding of how the ecosystem supports such pure foodstuffs is why Les Garagistes has come to be known as the stop on any culinary traveler's trip to Australia. I myself want to move there as the surroundings are so incredibly beautiful, the beaches so pristine, the people so seemingly friendly, I could eat at Les Garagistes every day for a year!
In Benin, what I love is how long chef Godfrey Nzamujo has been operating this way, working in concert with his surroundings, the earth the people, even creating his own label, Songhai. The research centers around Benin,Togo and Nigeria, all link up through this non-profit which promotes both recycling and biodiversity. If there is one thing which cannot be emphasized enough about the Songhai center, it is that the charisma of its founder infuses the space ad the meals. What this man has accomplished is frankly amazing and any visitor to these areas should look into both enjoying as many meals as possible, visiting the work they are doing, and even staying in one of their rooms. He also invites people to educate themselves, and learn how to carry on these traditions of good food and living in harmony with the earth, while enjoying the essence of Africa.
These days many people are wary of China when it comes to the quality of the food, but with chef Dai Jianjun, based in Hangzhou, in the province of Zhejiang, there is something going on which is quite extraordinary. While much of China races ahead, this man is looking to the past, to the traditions of culinary excellence to create what can only be called Art. Jianjun is preserving traditional cooking techniques, searching for disappearing fruits and vegetables in order to make sure they are not lost forever, and passing on to future generations a rich cultural heritage through cooking. On the banks of a lake in the mountains of Suichang, he has established a large farm, Gong Geng Shu Yuan, which is tethered to his well-known restaurant in Hangzhou, le Manoir de Long Jing. Every detail along the way, from the garden to the dinner plate, is closely followed, keeping in mind that the preparing of a meal is more than simply that, it is indeed the passing on of culture itself.
In California, in the town of Los Gatos, chef David Kinch has created his restaurant, Manresa, which is a focal point of the nearby Silicon Valley community as it searched for quality and taste. Biodynamic wines, foraged mushrooms, purity in sourcing and the use of plants from the infamous garden of Gene Lester, all translate to dishes which are beyond sublime. With a background in cooking schools in France, Spain, Germany and Japan, Kinch is free to mix and borrow to produce California's best, while honouring international cuisines. Once again we find a strong connection to a local food source, Love Apple Farms, which works exclusively for Manresa.
These five chefs and their beloved restaurants and those who provide food for their tables are all linked to the land, sea, people and the environments which surround them in a kind of love affair which is not only wholesome, but respects the roots of how everything is interconnected.
This five-part documentary series, which begins on Arte October 15th, has been written by Sophie Brissaud and Philippe Allante, directed by Philippe Allante and is a coproduction with Emma Lepers of Petit Dragon and Gwenaelle Clauwaert of Ten2Ten Films, and should not be missed.