Shannon Bennett's France with Scott Murray and friends »
A personal guide to dining in regional France
By Robyn Lewis
Following the success of Vue de Monde chef Shannon Bennett’s Paris comes France, another guide in the same mould. For once bitten by the French food bug, who can stop at the city walls?
As Bennett himself describes “There is a story to everything about food in France – why bread should never be presented upside down, or why beeswax was first used to bake caneles de Bordeaux. [This book is] for you to discover the reasons why my friends and I think France is not only a journey of great food, but a journey of self-discovery.”
With those compelling words, it’s hard for any foodie or Francophile to resist. Like the first edition of Paris, and the subsequent New York this little hardback is almost a holiday in itself, taking you around every region of France from Bretagne to the Côte d’Azur, and from bistros to fine dining establishments boasting three Michelin stars.
Bennett has a philosophy – that we all have a second life, and he’s not referring to the internet. He believes that your second life is made of achievements outside work and family, it’s the legacy you leave, whether through fundraising for a local cause, passing on a skill, or something grand and earth-shattering. For him, it’s clearly food, and in his words “I use France to try to extend my second life… (it’s) believing in what you are good at and then following that belief all the way to the end.”
As anyone who has been to France, or cooked or read about its food will know, the cuisines of each region are very different, often vastly so. It’s obviously climate, geography and soils that have the most effect, but also history, the local culture, and the habits of centuries of doing things in a particular way, using materials at hand. Whilst this book does not explore every nuance – it would take a massive encyclopaedia to do so – it gives a great feel for what makes each region unique.
Bennett also strongly believes in not judging food as you travel, but to go to the best restaurants you can afford, to “experience and discover”. Leave the criticism to the Michelin reviewers, and throw yourself into the cuisine; succumb to the creations of the chef. Wise words indeed. Can’t afford it? As he points out, a fabulous meal cost around the same as tickets to the AFL Grand Final, and for many the pleasure may live far longer. In his opinion (and one which I share) a far greater waste is a bad meal, for life is short, and there are only so many opportunities.
Bennett’s co-author Scott Murray has been to France no less than thirty times, and loves everything about it, from the people to the films, the hotels to the countryside. In preparing this guide they are ably assisted by friends ranging from chef Matt Moran to Vue do Monde staff and customers, a Russian TV producer to wine importers and sommeliers. The result is love on the page.
The book starts with a brief introduction on dining in France, accommodations, and wine. Be warned – by page 10 I already want to book tickets. Then it’s into the regions, starting in the centre and working its way around the circumference, although not in any obvious order. Not every town gets a mention of course – this is indeed a highly personal guide – only those that take their fancy and provided that memorable experience made the grade.
There are fine dining restaurants in both standard and luxury hotels, or ‘with rooms’, for those wishing to prolong the gustatory experience, or stand-alone, for those preferring to stay elsewhere. There are bistros, even the odd Italian restaurant to add cross border flavour, and even a brief guide to a weekend Monte Carlo.
Relative to the dining, France contains a slightly smaller selection of places to stay than in Paris, which is understandable given the huge number of restaurants they seem to have enjoyed, packed into 400 pages. It’s hard to do the scope of this book justice; there are gems on almost every page.
As in the previous volumes there are also Shannon’s favourite recipes, from Parfait of Chicken Livers and Foie Gras to Lamb en Croute, to Gâteau Basque and a delectable looking Brioche with Pink Almonds. They all speak eloquently of place, and of course most can be reproduced outside France. I’ll be making the Sweet Wine Jelly from Alsace (using Gewürtztraminer) very soon, although I may serve it with something other than goose.
For those who have tried Paul Bocuse’s Truffle and Onion Soup topped with Puff Pastry, Shannon provides his own variation that is “still complex to make yet very achievable in the home kitchen”. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that even he would not dare to try to replicate the original, as it is “a masterpiece and … it would be like rewriting a religious text”.
Shannon’s accolades are many, and on the international stage include being elected as the first Australian member of the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe. When someone of his stature and ability shares their secrets, we should all take note. It’s like being handed a private diary, a sports car and the keys.
The book’s layout is excellent, the photographs of food by Dean Cambray are mouth-watering, and the scenic shots throughout add the requisite regional charm and colour. I think it’s the best of the trio, and despite the weight, no food lover should visit France without it.
Buy it well in advance of your proposed trip, for you will find yourself dipping into it time and time again, planning your journey, re-creating the flavours at home, or simply dreaming of one of the world’s greatest food nations. Loup de mer, soufflé and foie gras yoghurt? Bring them on please, and soon!
Shannon Bennett’s France by Shannon Bennett and Scott Murray is published by The Miegunyah Press (Melbourne, 2011; hc, 416 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$44.99.
- France - all (FR)
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