05/07/2005 - 22:00

A taste of French tradition

05/07/2005 - 22:00


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July 14 is Bastille Day, an occasion celebrated by French men and women the world over as marking the birth of France as a sovereign nation.

A taste of French tradition

July 14 is Bastille Day, an occasion celebrated by French men and women the world over as marking the birth of France as a sovereign nation.

And while the national holiday is celebrated in a great number of ways, food and France’s distinctive culinary traditions are a common element in the festivities.

Sadly for the French (and Francophiles) in Perth, a leading light of the French community won’t be in town for this year’s outpouring of French nationalism.

Subiaco’s own French institution, Jacques, has decided to say au revoir to Western Australia.

After four years building a reputation as one of the state’s most dedicated French chefs, Jacque Depierre has decided to take his skills to the Melbourne market.

A firm proponent of traditional French cooking, Mr Depierre and his wife, Monique, undoubtedly brought a respect for and commitment to the traditions of the French kitchen to their restaurant.

“French food is about the old traditions of cooking,” Mr Depierre says. “Everything has time and effort poured into it.”

There’s no mistaking the passion and infatuation for food in Mr Depierre’s voice when he talks about what food means to the French and the respect French chefs have for their culinary legacy.

For example, he spent 10 minutes exuberantly detailing the necessity of timing fish stock to exactly 27 minutes, because any more or less would ruin the delicate flavour trying to be achieved. Such is the passion he feels for his profession.

Mr Depierre told Gusto he will continue to work against what he sees as a destructive ‘fusion revolution’ sweeping Australian kitchens.

“I think there is too much fusion cooking going on here,” he says. “There is no respect for the classic techniques.”

But the departing salvos of Mr Depierre are not his alone. Gwenael Lesle, chef/owner, and Philippe Kordics, owner/manager of Wembley’s Bouchon Bistro also believe that fusion cooking can undermine the integrity of French food.

“With all this talk about fusion, I think the most important thing to remember is respect,” Mr Lesle says.

“I think when people talk about all these new things it is great, because then we have to fight to protect our traditions. That is the way it should be.”

Stressing the difference between fusion and evolution, Mr Lesle admits that adapting one’s techniques and skills to the environment at hand is a central component of a chef’s profession. But in the same manner, there is a point where the process of fusion can take over.

“There is evolution in food just as there is in life – new products, new techniques, etc. I have to constantly adapt myself to my surroundings and I do the same with my food,” Mr Lesle says.

Mr Kordics says it is important to keep your identity alive. “That is where the passion is; full stop,” he says.

Bouchon Bistro opened three years ago in an effort to revamp not only the idea of bistro dining in Australia, but also the perception of French food.

Messrs Lesle and Kordics acknowledge that, while understanding of French food is growing in Australia, there is an ongoing need to educate the public that there is more to French cuisine than frogs’ legs and escargot. The difference as Mr Lesle puts it, is pride and passion.

“From day one we wanted to show people that French food is not as expensive as they thought,” Mr Lesle says.

The aim with Bouchon Bistro was to replicate the relaxed, convivial atmosphere of a French bistro.

“In France, they are the cornerstones of suburbs – the places where people gather and talk and to eat,” Mr Kordics says.

And central to this idea is uncomplicated, affordable French cuisine.

The bistro template is also the central tenet at Russel Blaikie’s Must Winebar. Distinct from traditional French cuisine, Mr Blaikie admits to cooking food he likes to eat, describing the style as “so cleverly, traditionally and culturally built for wine”.

“French food is about longevity; it’s been around for hundreds of years and frankly it’s going to be around for hundreds more,” Mr Blaikie says.

Essential to Must’s French flair is head chef and charcutier, Andre Mahe.

The French specialist pork butcher is fast becoming a dying breed in France, as supermarket dominance squeezes traditionally family run operations out of business.

To have someone of Mr Mahe’s dedication and talent in WA is a “fantastic thing”, Mr Blaikie says.

On  July 14, Perth’s French community will no doubt show the rest of the state what passion for life through food truly is. For restaurateurs it is a time to relive the unquestioned classics and discover again the pride and passion of the French kitchen.


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