The French want the world to sit down to dinner with them on March 19. That's when more than 1300 restaurants across 150 countries put on a special dinner for "Gout de France", or a taste of France.
It's all designed to promote French gastronomy, perhaps to reinforce its position in a culinary world where other cuisines may be on the ascendant. Chefs will create their own menus but will work according to a traditional degustation structure decreed by Alain Ducasse: an amuse bouche, a cold starter, a hot starter, a fish or seafood dish, a meat dish, a cheese course and a chocolate dessert.
Three restaurants in Canberra will take part in the dinner: Sage, Le Tres Bon and Les Bistronomes. The French embassy's chef, Jean Marie Le Rest, will cook a private dinner to mark the occasion on March 19, hosted by the ambassador, Christophe Lecourtier, and will also put on a much bigger dinner in Sydney on the weekend. His dinner involves dishes pulled from all over France, including veal shanks with truffle jus and a cheeky dessert involving a chocolate cigar filled with cream in a fake "ashtray" filled with cacao crumble. "The ambassador loves to smoke the cigars," he says with a smile.
It's not a new idea - it began with Auguste Escoffier, the legendary chef who started Epicure Dinners more than a hundred years ago, in 1912. The same menu, served on the same day, served in cities around the world. This time, though, chefs have more freedom to create individual dishes. "You have to think about seasonal produce with different local products," Le Rest says. "We want to develop this one all around the world [because] French gastronomy dinners are part of the UNESCO [heritage]."
Christophe Gregoire at Le Tres Bon is doing a dinner that's firmly grounded in his Alsatian heritage, revising several well known recipes from the region. "We take the original recipe and recreate it with local produce," he says. "It's a 200 per cent Alsace experience."
The dishes are matched with wines from Alsace, including a banyuls sweet wine to go with a chocolate verrine for dessert, and a rather rare carmanere Languedoc. The mains include a seafood choucroute with sabayon which Gregoire has adapted to the local terroir. "I take the recipe and recreate with local fish and mussels, sweet prawns, we've got a saffron farm in Bungendore, it's pretty amazing to get saffron in Bungendore, so I make a nice sabayon to finish this beautiful dish," he says.
Clement Chauvin at Les Bistronomes is serving up gruyere gougeres, a vichyssoise, saucisson brioche and a whole suckling pig. The saucisson or pork sausage and brioche will "be served on a board - help yourself - and the sauce will be on the side. It's very traditional of Lyons where I'm from," he says. "We're working more and more on dishes to share. And this is working the best at Les Bistronomes, we're going to do a whole suckling pig to share on the table with choucroute and caramelised apple. The pig is going to be melting in your mouth."
Damian Brabender, the head chef at Sage, says the opportunity to showcase Canberra fine dining was exciting. The Gout de France dinner at Sage is inspired by Brabender's time in Europe. "After reading the thoughts put forward by Alain Ducasse regarding the Gout de France, I realised my menu had already been constructed my head — a showcase of contemporary French cuisine for today's diners in our capital," he says. "Staying clear of the cliched 'snails and frog's legs', even dodging any chance to be too truffle heavy, I focused on personal experiences and dishes cooked during my time in Europe."
His menu includes duck a la orange, beef bourguignon and a dish of scallops, leek and puff pastry to which he was introduced by French chef and friend Sofiane Kaced. "I was extremely lucky to get a chance to work with three Michelin star chef Pierre Kaufman whilst at the Royal Opera House London — this truly sparked my interest in traditional French cuisine, the amount of knowledge and passion this man has for French food is incredible and infectious."
Brabender says the cuisine is unlikely to be challenged for supremacy. "French food has always been considered the pinnacle in the culinary world and unlike other fads, will never fade like 'quinoa and broccoli', or 'foams and gels'. The true benchmark of chef abilities have been measured against French standards for generations," he says.
The Gout de France dinners are held on Thursday, March 19.
- Le Tres Bon, 40 Malbon Street, Bungendore. $110 with matched wines. Bookings 6238 0662
- Sage, Gorman House, Ainslie Avenue, Braddon. $110. Bookings 6249 6050
- Les Bistronomes, 26 Elouera Street, Braddon. $95 or $150 with matched wines. Bookings 6248 8119.