Americans have been influenced by French food and wine since Thomas Jefferson served dinner à la française at Monticello. Today french fries, french onion soup and chocolate mousse can be found on menus in modest cafes as well as gourmet restaurants. The French, in turn, have adopted famous American brands as their own. Bottles of Heinz ketchup, Coca Cola and the tell-tale Starbucks paper cups are highly visible on tables in Paris. On balance, I believe we've gotten the better deal. But occasionally an American food trend that's not promoted by a billion dollar multinational corporation penetrates the food culture of France, and tips the scale in the other direction.
A shining example can be found in a new storefront up the street from our Montmartre apartment. The sign above the door says it all: Au Bout du Champ, literally "at the end of the field". The manager proudly told me the shop was inspired by the American locavore movement that began in California in the 1970's. But that was forty years ago! The incentive to eat locally grown, organic foods that Alice Waters championed at Chez Panisse has long since evolved into networks of farmers' markets and farms that sell shares of their harvest through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships.
France has been moving in parallel at its own pace. Au Bout du Champ is a member of AMAP whose founder, Robert Vuillon, a farmer in Provence (Toulon) was inspired to sell directly to the public after discovering a farmers' market on a visit to New York City in 2000. Members of AMAP (Agriculture pour la maintien d'une agriculture paysanne) sell their produce directly to the consumer at prices that guarantee them a decent living. Some produce is organic but landowners for whom organic certification is too expensive respect the environment by using as few chemicals as possible.
Grated carrots dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and chives.
What I find interesting about French locavore movement is AMAP's use of the word paysanne (peasant) instead of farmer or artisan. 'Politically correct' America would not choose such a socially-charged word. In medieval Europe, a peasant was an impoverished laborer who worked with his/her hands for a landowner. AMAP's members are asking for the right to make a decent living in a time-honored way. Respect for the 'rights of man' is a sacred concept in France. It's also uncannily reminiscent of the free speech movement in Berkeley in 1960's which preceeded the locavore movement of the 70's.
Spinach salad with mushrooms, grated carrots fresh walnuts and grated Parmesan
Dressing is walnut oil and walnut vinager
True to its AMAP mandate, Au Bout du Champ is filled with food items grown within 100 km (62 miles) of the storefront. The roughly twelve foot square space is packed with wooden crates of fresh vegetables that were picked that morning. Shelves above the tables hold hand-sorted grains, honey, eggs, fruit juices and homemade fruit preserves.
This far north in France the selection is still dominated by root vegetables: potatoes, leeks, carrots, beets, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes. Spring produce includes radishes, green onions, spinach, lettuce, chard, cabbage and cauliflower. Apples and pears from last year's harvest are the only fruits available this early in the year. Like so much of Montmartre, this shop is totally without pretense There's no way Au Bout Du Champ is going to morph into the next Whole Foods.
Chard Frittata with spring onions,garlic and vacherin cheese (or cheddar)
Preparing meals with produce from Au Bout Du Champ feels like cooking in the French countryside. Spinach leaves are large, dark and chewy; carrots are firm and sweet; the golden apples have a mild floral aroma of roses. The truth is, most purveyors at the daily street markets and the large groceries chains throughout Paris are supplied by the vast central market at Rungis on the outskirts of town where 'bio' (organic) produce has only a small presence. Au Bout Du Champ is at the forefront of the changing food culture of Paris, and we have only ourselves to thank.