THE REAL DEAL: A NATIONWIDE TOUR OF THE BEST FRENCH INITIATIVES DURING THE COVID19 CRISIS

“Solidarity feeds the roots from which fraternity grows” - Bihmane Belattaf

Hello there, food lovers. Today, nobody can ignore the state of general uncertainty in which the world community finds itself; and we are all acting responsibly responsibility and abiding by the measures taken by our governments (#stayhome), we all have the same questions in our heads: when ill we be allowed out? What consequences will Covid-19 have on the economy? What’s for lunch?

Spoiler alert: sadly, you’re not going to find the answers to your question in this article.

However, we all feel the need to meet up to share words, information and seek comfort among our friends and family and the rest of the world. To do so let me suggest that we take a look at the situation with a focus on the world of fine food, hospitality and food service… in short, on the situation that we are all in as players gravitating around this delightful and palatable world of good food. Okay, here we go.

As I write, we are reaching the end of our fifth week of lockdown. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the entire Gourmet Selection team to express our support for all the people and organisations that continue to work for the well-being of everyone. But you know what they say: the darker the shadows, the brighter the light! So let’s take a (virtual) trip around France in best practice mode to pay tribute to the worthy initiatives out there and take a closer look at these companies working their socks off to bring to our days in the shadows a few moments of sun-drenched delight.

BEST PRACTICES

ORGANISATION AND CONTINUITY

In the “social distancing” family, can I have… Delivery!

This has quickly become a must during the lockdown period and many delicatessens, artisans and producers have adopted this distribution channel which previously was relatively marginal in the sector. Maison Plisson is a good illustration of the development of this distribution method: delivery, which had previously represented accounted for 20% of their pre-lockdown turnover, today makes up more than 75% of their sales.

Therefore, a number of delivery platforms are getting organised, and in the run-up to the special occasions that punctuate our calendar - such as Easter, the most recent one in the list - the web comes out in force when chocolate shops and delicatessens bend over backwards to make sure that life goes on and that we can all derive pleasure from hunting out a few delicious chocolate eggs will hidden in our garden. It is to Cacao Barry, the cocoa and chocolate manufacturer and a responsible and environmentally aware brand, that we owe the worthy initiative of the creation of the platform “Pas sans mon Chocolat” on which visitors can find a list of food artisans open near to them or offering a home delivery service. Amongst our favourites we can cite Le Chocolat des Français which, at Easter and all year round, succeeds in transforming the dullest day into a comfy cosy one with a single chunk of chocolate. Pretty impressive.

All of this ultimately illustrates true changes in the consumer habits of French people. This transformation may have been born out of necessity, but it may become common practice and a part of people’s everyday lives once lockdown is lifted. Add to that the fact that virtually all physical outlets have a click and collect service when they have a web platform, such as is the case with Caves Bardou in Paris which stands out as one of the good pupils in the profession by diversifying its delivery modes. Therefore, check with your favourite food artisan, delicatessen or producer or let yourself be tempted by a taste adventure with that small vintner just downstairs you that you have never previously visited. Who knows, this lockdown could have a few pleasant surprises in store!

So now we know that we can continue to obtain our favourite products without leaving home (hashtags stay home), why not settle into a nice armchair and relax with a cup of tea – La Compagnie coloniale is continuing its deliveries, which are free with the code “RESTEZCHEZVOUS” and a nice slice of bread, butter and jam - Muroise et Compagnie and La Cour d’Orgères also continue to concoct some fantastic home-made recipes for you… Take our word for it!

GOOD ASSOCIATIONS

La Tablée des Chefs, the association of chefs committed to good causes, is stepping up its initiatives to feed and support the population. In the week of 8 April, in the very middle of the Covid-19 health crisis and with the majority of the French in lockdown, member chefs of La Tablée des Chefs France came together around an initiative entitled “Les cuisines solidaires” (Kitchens for the community) and prepared more than 3000 dishes for recipients of food bank aid.

In the run-up to Easter, many chocolate shops, instead of wasting their stock, decided to donate it to hospital staff who have been working devotedly to cure sufferers of Covid-19.

Among them, the self-starter Jacques Genin who launched “The Giving Program,” invited “all the companies who can” to “give courage and comfort” to care staff “who, every day, dedicate their lives to saving ours”. As the leader of the movement, the Paris-based chocolate maker will coordinate the distribution of nearly 400 kg of chocolates to hospital staff in the Paris region. Hats off! Le chocolat des Françaisworked in the same vein on Friday 3 April by giving 350 kg of chocolates to the seven hospitals in the Paris region health authority. This fine display of support and camaraderie is even more impressive when you realise how much 350 kg of chocolate represents for this small French SME which combines good looks, good taste and team spirit. Still in France, Chocolat MATHEZ willingly donated its stock of masks and gloves to the ambulances and care home of Chateauneuf-sur-Sarthe - a gesture which was more than welcome and enabled many of our carers to continue to save lives before the new stocks of masks arrived, by being at least a little better protected.

Finally, I feel it is important to add that many of these initiatives are only possible due to the charity En première ligne which connects organisations in the frontline in the fight against Covid-19 with everyone who wants to provide their support.

What would you say to a bit more greenery in our diet?

There is an excellent way of enjoying seasonal vegetables whilst supporting farmers who have been severely affected by the closure of open-air markets and restaurants. Unable to sell their spring harvests, a large proportion of French farmers will find themselves obliged to destroy part of it. These days, more than ever before, eating fresh and local produce is a civic act.

To facilitate access to these products, structures such as La Ruche qui dit oui organise collection points all over France: you arrange a place and a time, and you pick up your shopping as arranged. Child’s play! Le Court circuit has chosen the same path with its points of sale spread all over the Hauts-de-France region. Finally, even closer to the producer, how about the website Direct Potagerwhich offers the same service, but without a middleman: you pay the producer directly. This initiative can also be found in AMAP associations which put together seasonal fruit and vegetable baskets: their content is different every week and you find out what’s in it when you pick it up.

FORMING THE NEW RESISTANCE

Many market players are joining forces and mobilising.

Among others, the chef Stéphane Jégo has adopted an activist approach by launching a petition to save French restaurants and producers. The owner of L’Ami Jean (12th arrondissement of Paris) has asked the government to declare a state of natural disaster for public health in order that insurers can compensate French retailers.

Finally, in this series on worthy initiatives, we also remember this article which appeared in the Rumporter at the end of March inviting any individuals or legal entities owning 96% ethyl alcohol such as certain producers of vodka, gin, liqueurs, absinthe authorities to donate it to our chemists so that they can make the precious hand sanitiser which was out of stock in the country at a critical moment in the pandemic.

ENTERTAIN AND INSPIRE

Social media have quickly become one of the main sources of exchange with the outside world, one of the ways of keeping in touch with our favourite everyday faces. To do so, delicatessens, chefs and influencers have taken up the challenge to bring a bit of fun to our experience by for example launching competitions: one illustration is the Comptoir Français du Théwhich does not deliver any more but whose blog gives us recipes, links to online sports classes, etc. in short, things to really enjoy whilst keeping a healthy conscience.

Furthermore, in the team of bon vivants, I could mention Raphaële Marchal (@Enrangdoignons), a cookery blogger, journalist and the chairwoman of the judging panel for Gourmet Selection’s Les Quintessences competition, and who has become the “must-follow” person during this lockdown. Her Instagram accounts is packed with recipes from chefs, but also home cooking recipes, those of our mothers and grandmothers who we are thinking of at this time and who we salute. A delight for the eyes, and not just for the eyes.

As we were talking about good food activists, we cannot go on without mentioning the chef Romain le Cordroch, who attended our 2019 show and who takes part in and promotes the “étoiles solidaires” Michelin starred chefs who have mobilised to make inspirational recipes for our locked down elders. This heart-warming Instagram account contains all the recipes together with the portraits of the generous individuals who have concocted them.

For even more personal warmth, let’s turn to Denny Imbroisi (@DennyImbroisi) and his infectious good humour whom we had the pleasure of hosting last year. The Italian chef broadcasts some fantastic live videos on his Instagram account, where we can for example at last learn how to make pasta carbonara as it should be done (and it was about time).

In the same spirit, you can also watch Cyril Lignac every day live at 6:45 PM on channel M6 in his show “Tous en Cuisine” where he shares easy to make and delicious recipes. So now you know what you have to do: head for the kitchen!

TOMORROW

So what does tomorrow hold?

The date for the beginning of the lockdown has been announced: on 11 May, France will gradually start to emerge from its current state. And yet there are no prospects of immediately reopening these venues where French people enjoy coming together. How can we anticipate and deal with the situation as best we can?

I can heartily recommend the portal of the Fédération des Epiciers de France (French Grocery Federation) which regularly updates its website given the constantly changing news flow in terms of legal requirements and the current situation.

As for the aid that the government intends to provide to small businesses, the government website seems once again to be the best place to find all the answers to the questions that you may have.

Dear friends, we are all longing to be able to share some good times together again around good products and in places other than between our four walls. France is impatient - indeed the whole world is impatient - to have a drink on a patio before enjoying a nice meal carefully prepared by restaurant owners who will have spent months yearning for this day. Let’s bear in mind that every day that goes by brings us closer to the end of this episode and that with the advent of sunnier days will come that of our newfound freedom. Straight up, that’s the real deal.