The French are famous for having a deeply ingrained culinary heritage. Carla Grossetti talks to four chefs who have lived and worked in France about the French food traditions they love.
Carla Grossetti

13 Sep 2018 - 6:44 PM  UPDATED 10 Jan 2019 - 2:49 PM

1. The tradition of the hour-long lunch

Head chef of Bistro Moncur, in Mosman, Jon Trouillet, misses the fact that a long lunch with family, friends or colleagues is an everyday tradition. "A long lunch in France is a big tradition. There are not many other countries in the world that do lunch like we do. The restaurants are always full at lunchtime in France and that's because enjoying a proper lunch is in our DNA. It starts when we are at school, where students take an hour break for a communal lunch. That tradition continues into adulthood and it is not uncommon to have an entrée, main, dessert and wine every day for lunch. Even if it's office workers having a sandwich in a park, there will always be people meeting to eat. French people like that convivial tradition of eating together. It's very civilised. On the weekends, all the family came together to have a good lunch. Maman used to take a brasairade, a hot flat grill, and put it in the centre of the table and we would take thin slices of chicken, beef and pork and cook it on the table. Lunchtime brings people together."

2. Market shopping as an everyday experience

Executive chef of Hotel Centennial in Sydney, Justin North, worked in the kitchen of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons with Raymond Blanc in Europe and has a long-held passion for French cuisine. "I've travelled in France and worked there and the passion for food and wine is a big part of the culture. The street markets set up on these little cobblestone streets are phenomenal. During winter, you have big baskets of fresh truffle just sitting out in baskets, game birds hanging in windows and big wheels of cheese. It's intoxicating. The French wander down and buy a crisp French baguette and get supplies for just one day and that is second nature to them. I remember visiting Le Bon Marche in Paris and I was dumbfounded by the quality of ingredients, the different varieties of tomatoes and the different aromas.  Seeing all the raw and unpasteurised cheeses and the selection of ripeness and quality was fantastic. We make a big song and dance about sustainability and supporting small producers in Australia but in France, nobody refers to it like that. That's just what they do."

3. Sit-down dinners in the open air

Dany Chouet, author of So French: A Lifetime In the Provincial Kitchen, brought French cuisine to Australia in the 1970s. Chouet has returned to the Perigord, in South-West of France, where she lives with partner Trish Hobbs.  "It is almost a physical need - to be in the open air sharing dinner - when the season of marchés nocturnes begins. This is a tradition where, one night a week, the main square is cleared, lights are strung up, long tables for 20 or more are set up and people arrive in groups, each bringing a basket with their own plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins. Local producers come to sell their produce and sometimes they have vans equipped for grilling duck breasts, local lamb, saucisse de Toulouse and local beef; sometimes they have simply set up a folding table selling local strawberries, tarts and cakes, bread, or cheeses, or plates of foie gras with salad, or plump air-dried duck breast.  There will be huge vats of snails cooked in red wine, barbecued skewers of duck livers or giant pots of dried beans cooked with pork. The atmosphere is happy, casual and friendly. Vive la France profonde."

4. Standing on a street corner devouring a crepe

Bistrot Gavroche executive chef Frederic Colin says eating crepes on a street corner in Paris is one of his fondest childhood memories. "You find a lot of vendors selling crepes on street corners in Paris. It's a winter thing. You grab your crepe, sprinkle on some sugar and a squeeze of lemon and you eat it right there on the street. There is no fork, no plate. It's folded into four pieces. When I think of a crepe I think of going to Mont Marte with my grandparents and listening to the music and enjoying a crepe. I'm from Paris and I named my restaurant Gavroche after the character in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Gavroche is a very cheeky kid and I am like that cheeky little kid from Paris eating crepes. We have a crepe Suzette dish on the menu at Bistrot Gavrouche. Crepes Suzette is a beautiful tradition because you do the sauce at the table and you have this wow effect. You melt the butter, add a bit of sugar, deglaze with orange juice, add fresh lemon zest and grand Marnier. You put the crepe into the sauce, add fresh orange segments and flambe with Grand Marnier and Cointreau. Et voila!"

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Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? It’s French week on The Chefs' Line airing 6pm weeknights on SBS. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more.

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