What have the French ever given us? Bearnaise sauce, I suppose – but what else? Well, Chablis, baguettes, ratatouille, croissants, Beaujolais, crepes, Cognac and moules marinieres should also be on the list. Come to think of it, most of the food I love originates from the other side of the English Channel.
For a long time, good food meant French food and not much else. To be a serious chef anywhere in the world involved spending time in France. But there ended the relationship. France provided the foundation for a life in the kitchen, but then chefs moved on.
However, with Scandinavia, Spain and Britain now able to make as good a claim to great food as the French, attitudes have altered.
One of the most exciting examples of this is the Budding Chefs programme, which introduces young Scottish chefs to French cooking and then gives their French counterparts the same experience over here.
The latest trip to France ends tomorrow, and over the past week, six young chefs from Scotland have had an incredible introduction to gastronomy.
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The visit started at Rungis, the world’s largest wholesale food market, and the group then took over the kitchens at a tiny right-bank bistro to showcase Scottish produce to Parisian guests.
Then to Brittany for a look at the restaurant of a five-star hotel and visits to mussel, oyster and poultry farms before cooking a Scottish menu with Breton produce for 100 guests.
Final stop today is the city of Rennes, where the group are challenged to shop on a budget in local markets before cooking Saturday lunch in the homes of their French hosts. Then it’s back to the day jobs on Monday.
Budding Chefs is the brainchild of the French Institute and chef Fred Berkmiller, who owns two French restaurants in Edinburgh. The initiative earned him an award from List magazine’s Eating and Drinking Guide awards, and no wonder.
In just three years, Budding Chefs has developed into a fantastic training opportunity for our chefs of the future.
Young cooks from Monachyle Mhor in the Trossachs and the Scran and Scallie, Ondine, Cannonball and Bon Vivant in Edinburgh are on the current trip, but more than 50 have benefitted since 2011.
As they progress in their careers and perhaps even open their own restaurants, the lasting influence of the exchange experience will become clear.
But it’s already earned its place in the culinary calendar. Scottish catering colleges do a fantastic job, but this programme broadens horizons and offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The next Budding Chefs event is in March, when French chefs visit Scotland to learn about our great restaurants and amazing larder. Now that’s something you could not have imagined just a few years ago.
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