Tuesday, November 20, 2012

VOYAGE À NANTES, A GASTRONOMIC DISCOVERY

LES TABLES DE NANTES 2013

Le Créateur, en obligeant l’homme à manger pour vivre, 
l’y invite par appétit et l’en récompense par le plaisir. **
Brillat-Savarin 


My husband and I keep having the same debate. I argue that Nantes, our adopted city, does not have a local cuisine as much as she has a choice selection of fabulous local ingredients, these ingredients the basis for a wide variety of pure, clean, simple dishes that are created to highlight the quality and freshness of sea scallops, sardines, tomatoes, carrots, lamb’s lettuce, among others, these ingredients the basis for Nantes’ quiet but assertive renown as a gastronomic city. My husband, passionate and knowledgeable about food and an even better cook than I, disagrees, arguing for Nantes’ stunningly simple and elegant cuisine bourgeoise, a cuisine born from the wealth and modest sophistication of her former ruling class, nobles and merchants alike, as much as a consequence of the fine and exquisite products of this port city.




But other than such traditional recipes as the gâteau nantais, la fouace nantaise, caramel au beurre salé or the beurre blanc nantais, there are surely no truly emblematic dishes. Nantes, as I have before written, sits comfortably between water and land, the ocean and the river, a terroir lush and fertile within kissing distance of Brittany, the Vendée and the Loire in which a diversity of delicacies such as eel and oysters and tender green asparagus, not to mention the fleur de sel de Guerande, offer a fresh palette of flavors and textures, endless possibilities for creativity and imagination. Add to that an amazing selection of local wines, from Muscadet and Gros Plant to the neighboring wines of Anjou and Saumur, we are never short of a glorious meal.

The closeness of Nantes to Brittany and regions washed by both the Atlantic and the Loire River has influenced her own cuisine for centuries, yet while dining on crêpes and cider, moules marinières, Kouign Amann and Far Breton, she has been able to retain her individuality in no uncertain terms, creating her own unique identity. The importance of Nantes as a great port city, for centuries the crossroads between Europe, Africa, the Americas, the West Indies and all that lay between, meant the influence of the spices, sugar, fruits and liqueur brought to her shores on boats great and small, adding an exotic twist, a light kick of rum, the scent of vanilla, the bite of pepper, the hint of almonds and lemon to her cuisine, making all who cooked here curious and adventurous. Light and ethereal, no heavy sauces or overpowering buttery concoctions to drown out and hide the delicate, subtle character of the raw ingredients, the food, the dishes we eat every day need no extravagant elaboration, no flashy, complicated enhancement. Nantes’ culinary identity is based on the simple yet intriguing combination of local, seasonal ingredients and very little more. Give us a platter of freshly steamed and raw seafood, lightly grilled sardines with a glass of Muscadet and we are happy.



One reason husband and I love living in Nantes and in the Pays de la Loire is that creativity and diversity we find in our local eating places. Yes, there are crêperies galore, our favorite kabob (Le Couche Tard) and pizza (Pinocchio) joints (not to forget my favorite artisan chocolatier/pâtissier Vincent Guerlais), the choice of restaurants, bistros and brasseries is ever growing. Just the abundance and quality of those natural ingredients, the network of local producers, draws so many talented chefs to the region, to our city. We, of course, have our fetish restaurants such as Les Bouteilles or our latest discoveries and newest passions, La Raffinerie (chef Nicolas Bourget) and Song Saveur & Sens (chef Nhung Phung) not to forget the magnificent La Mare aux Oiseaux (Michelin starred chef Éric Guérin) an hour outside of the city. But the number of excellent restaurants and extraordinary chefs in Nantes means that we can pursue a culinary adventure, embark on a gastronomic voyage of discovery as often as we step out the door.


The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity
than the discovery of a new star.
- Brillat-Savarin


Which is why I was thrilled to be invited by Nantes Tourisme and Voyage à Nantes to their party launching the second Restaurant Guide les Tables de Nantes 2013. The guide offers a selection of 97 restaurants in Nantes and surrounding suburbs, 31 more than last year’s guide, as well as a selection of wine bars. The committee representing Nantes Tourisme and Voyage à Nantes, in partnership with Nantes Métropole and Vins de Loire, set out to promote the quality and diversity of the city’s establishments by selecting and highlighting those restaurants and chefs who use – with respect - fresh, local ingredients with a special mention of those who also feature and serve regional wines. Service and ambiance in conjunction with the creativity and savoir-faire in the kitchen and on the plate each play an important role in creating an all-around sensory dining experience, a pleasurable culinary voyage and thus qualifying for the guide.


But the soirée and the guide held a special bonus for those of us who love a perfect gastronomic experience… who love to eat: Les Coups de Coeur, the Jury’s Favorites… the special mention of 3 restaurants who are not so much “the best” but rather special discoveries that are not only worth the visit but worth following. The 3 restaurants designated, the 3 young chefs selected not only highlight the best of Nantes’ produce and ingredients, but raise them to something extraordinary, offering the diner a sensational gustatory and sensory experience while keeping in the spirit of la cuisine nantaise. This years’ Coups de Coeur were

 Les Chants d'Avril (Chef Christophe François) *

Lulu Rouget (Chef Ludovic Pouzelgues) *

L'U.Ni (Chef Nicolas Guiet) *

And lucky were we to be offered a taste of each of these 3 young chefs’ creations while we chatted the rest of the evening away. With glasses of Muscadet, bien sur.


I sit and flip through my own copy of this lovely little booklet and see many names I recognize and a few that I don’t. Voyage à Nantes, The Journey to Nantes, was created to promote ”the rich cultural and culinary panorama” that is Nantes. Through projects, happenings and events, the visitor is accompanied and guided through this wonderful city on a “cultural trail”, offering each and every perspective of the city and her heritage, to share the beauty, art and complexity of our modest, diverse city in a clear, concise way. Les Tables de Nantes does the same for food, accompanying the visitor – and the local – on a gastronomic, gustatory trail of discovery and delight. We may be a rather small city, but don’t be fooled! Nantes is most definitely a gastronomic destination as is so evident in the pages of Les Tables de Nantes!


Please visit the websites for:

Le Voyage à Nantes

Les Tables de Nantes

La Folle Journée

Les Machines de l’Ile

Nantes Tourisme

Vins de Loire

A special thank you to Florence of Nantes Tourisme and Marie-Laure of Voyage à Nantes for the invitation… and for finally including me in the family of local food bloggers/journalists! 


* Photos of the 3 chefs are courtesy of Les Tables de Nantes and Voyage à Nantes! Merci!



** The Creator, who made man such that he must eat to live, invites him to eat by means of appetite, and rewards him with pleasure.

15 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I've never been to Nantes, but I'm sure I'd enjoy visiting this interesting town and discovering its gastronomy!

Cheers,

Rosa

Denise said...

Sounds wonderful - and no matter if there is local cuisine or not, I am sure I would find many things to nosh on in Nantes! Would love discover the village with you sometime!

A Canadian Foodie said...

Thank you for the geography lesson. It was Nimes I was thinking you were living at!!! I have been to Nantes, as well, but had the two mixed up - and both are so incredibly different. I have always said: travel 20 k in France and it is like you are in a completely different country. Interesting read.
:)
V

Lizzy Do said...

Gosh, what a spectacular event! Even if Nantes does not have a distinctive cuisine, I could easily grow large feasting on all the delicacies you mentioned :)

Jamie said...

@Lizzy Do: truly! the food here is what really keeps us here!

Not Quite Nigella said...

A lovely looking event Jamie! And having been so fortunate to visit Nantes, it brought a smile to my face :)

Cake Duchess said...

You make me want to visit Nantes not only to see you again! Lovely event that looks like it was really delicious.

Ivy said...

I wish I could visit Nantes. I am sure the local cuisine is superbe!

Murat said...

Ohhh Great.. I Liked.

Thanks

Murat

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

I want to visit to see you and now I have even more reasons. Lovely post, Jamie!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting comments. May I had that Nantes is not just close to Brittany, it is PART OF Brittany? About "Les Tables de Nantes", I still wonder if a local government has to decide on which restaurant should be included or not. Anyway, it's good to see that, after a quarter of century in office, our powers-that-be finally discover how great our local culinary heritage is.
Sven Jelure

Jamie said...

@Sven: if you read the guide or the website, you will understand how the restaurants were selected to be included in the guide as well as for the 3 Coups de Coeur and it was not the local government who chose. Restaurants were asked to submit a form if they wanted to be included and then a committee made up of people in various activities and professions visited each restaurant and checked for quality and freshness (ingredients, dishes), welcome, ambiance, etc. And every restaurant that passed the criteria were included. From there, this jury selected their 3 favorites. And yes I am thrilled that the city is making this effort and campaign to get out the message of our city's culinary riches and network of great chefs and producers!

Lisa said...

LOved getting a tour of the Nantes cuisine. I think I have to side with your husband, though..and I;m going just on looks here..so not accurate obviously..but it does seem as if Nantes has it's own niche in the culinary world...a certain something that makes it all 'Nantes'. I kind of feel that way about most cities rife with good restaurants. Heck..even 'Joisey' has got it's little 'delicacies' like Taylor, Ham and Egg on an English Muffin lol ;D xo

wendy@chezchloe said...

How FUN to be included on this. And congrats on the top 100 food blogs. I don't know when that was awarded but am just now discovering it. Cheers Jamie!
x wendy

Jeanne said...

Oh what fun! We will definitely have to work our way through some of these restaurants when Nick and I *finally* make it down to Nantes one day ;o) I think that platter of oysters alone might be enough to persuade him!

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