It was easy to scoff at Le Fooding when the movement first emerged in Paris ten years ago. A contraction of "food" and "feeling," the word at first sounded pretentious and silly, at least to my English-speaking ears. Back then, I saw it as a publicity stunt to promote the careers of a small group of French journalists who went as far as to copyright their new word.
Now that ten years have gone by and Le Fooding is still going strong, I'm not nearly so dismissive. Never mind the name - Le Fooding has accomplished the seemingly impossible, which is to make French chefs take their jobs (and perhaps themselves) just a little less seriously. At one of its events, haute cuisine chefs Alain Passard of L'Arpège and Guy Martin of Le Grand Véfour served free soup to Parisians at covered markets. This year in the Paris version of the Grand Fooding d'Ete, a kind of culinary Tour de France, a Laotian chef from Chinatown cooked alongside television star Cyril Lignac and three up-and-coming bistro chefs. The first Paris-New York Fooding event is planned this September.
I had somehow never made it to a Fooding event in Paris - the problem in Paris is making time for everything there is to do there - but, since Le Fooding only comes to Nice once a year, I was determined to experience it this time. Philippe was busy putting the finishing touches on our soon-to-be-bed-and-breakfast upstairs (more about that soon!), so I got Sam into his pyjamas, plunked him in front of a video, met a friend and headed north on the tram to Villa Arson, a contemporary art center in Nice.
Rain was starting to sprinkle and foolishly I had never considered that the event might be taking place outdoors. By the time we had paid the €10 entry fee and got our hands on a cocktail of Ricard, apple, mint and celery concocted by chef Mauro Colagreco of Le Mirazur in Menton, we realized we would be spending the evening juggling umbrellas, plates and cups while trying to look as cool as the arty types whose hair seemed unaffected by damp.
Long, surprisingly disciplined line-ups snaked around the garden and we waited in one randomly, until I thought to ask what it was for. "Dessert" was the answer, so we changed lines, later noticing that in Disneyland fashion it was shaped like a paperclip. By the time we had got close to the front of the line, those behind us were being told that the chef had run out of food. Instead of the promised "frites de gressin olive et romarin, anchoïade et fenouil," we were given two breadsticks and a single sliver of roasted baby fennel. What about the anchoïade? "There is none," said the waitress, adding helpfully, "you'll have to come to the restaurant."
As it happened, we were among the lucky ones. The event had started at 6pm and was supposed to go on until 10pm. At 8pm on the dot, there was not a crumb of food to be seen. Ravenous groups criss-crossed the grass, lunging towards anything that appeared edible. Eventually, feeling disgruntled, we went and complained to one of the organizers.
"I'll see what I can do," he said, disappearing into a building where people appeared to be - eating! - and coming back with two plates of delicious orecchiette with greens.
As soon as we were back on the lawn with our plates, people started to approach us with big eyes. "Can I ask you where you got that?" As I hummed and hawed, they looked ready to weep. One woman even said accusingly, "That's far more than anybody else got." It was then that I noticed the sign saying that the event was in support of Action Contre la Faim - ironic given the circumstances.
Then something miraculous happened. Over the loudspeakers Grace Jones started to sing Piaf, and the people forgot their hunger and began to dance. From then on, as they leaped and pranced barefoot on the grass, no more mention was made of the lack of food - perhaps thanks to the free cocktails that were now being handed out. We had moved seamlessly from the "food" part of the evening to the "ing."
You might think that this experience would give me the chance to make fun of Le Fooding once again. In fact, quite the opposite happened - I left feeling much more "ing" than I had ever expected, and ready to eat my words.
Let's face it, they were all I was going to get in the way of dessert.
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Interresting to read your experience for that day at le fooding in Nice. I wanted to tell you that that day we have been asked to do 1200 portions of food. Trust me for our dish we made almost 1400 before we carried on serving with out the anchoiade... (others cooks left...) The cause is at 5 pm people were already eating and most of them came twice at each place I think. next year I ask for policeman wright by my place... Thank you for a good blog and hope to see you again