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Gastronomades - calling all foodies

Gastronomades - calling all foodies

Every year foodies visit the capital town of the Charente to tickle their taste buds at the ‘Gastronomades’ festival

Take a handful of well-known chefs, add a public who like their food and stir in lessons, demonstrations and cook-offs. Pour the mixture into the streets of Angoulême and you have the Gastronomades. Both a celebration of gastronomy and a festival of taste, the event takes place every last weekend in November, attracting chefs from across France and abroad.

The two hundred exhibitors are spread out across the centre of the town. Visitors can don hats and be let in on the chef’s secrets during lessons, or just stroll around the town enjoying the tastings and friendly atmosphere. Producers and growers hold market stalls, and there are also exhibitions and activities to discover more about cooking through books and images. But one of the most popular events is the cook-off, known as the ‘culinary joust’ where two chefs battle it out to make the best meal, without knowing beforehand what ingredients are in their baskets.

gastronomades ingredientsThe Gastronomades is also a chance to put Charentais food and chefs in the spotlight. ‘It is the culinary event in the Charente,’ says a spokesperson for Club 16 des saveurs charentaises, an association which groups food producers in the region. ‘And they can’t do it without us!’ Indeed, that’s how it began sixteen years ago. The region wanted to promote its produce and cooking, and asked for events suggestions. Patrick Mardikian, the current organiser of Gastronomades, proposed the first fair, and it took off from there, attracting 100,000 visitors over the weekend. ‘It’s now one of the largest events in Angoulême,’ says Mardikian. ‘It takes place across the town – we’ll have Michelin starred guest chefs in one place, activities especially for children in another – and as ever it is all free to the public.’ And to keep with tradition, many of the demonstrations are made with two of the most well-known products of the Charente – Pineau and Cognac.

For the town, the unique culinary event is a source of pride. ‘With a surface of 4000m2 and participants of the highest level, the Gastronomades contributes to the radiance of Angoulême,’ says Gérard Despahy, deputy mayor of Angoulême in charge of culture, adding that the event helps the awareness and sales of local produce. ‘Businesses in the town are pleased to welcome the extra clients,’ Despahy says. ‘It’s a festival of quality which joins in fully with the cultural life of Angoulême.‘
This year, there’ll be a special area to celebrate oysters from the Ile d’Oléron, with a stall, an information stand and an oyster bar. Friday is traditionally kids’ day, with lots of cooking activities and tastings to keep little ones entertained and give them the opportunity to try new foods.

For the chefs and others working in cuisine, there is the chance to win prizes for their talent, with awards such as the best food marketing prize (in 2007, this was won by the cartoon film ‘Ratatouille’!), the best culinary journalist of the year, the Cognac prize for the chef who represents the best new chef of the year according to culinary journalists, the Initiative prize for the most original action in favour of gastronomy, such as article, event or programme, and the Cookbook prize, voted by the public. There’s even a ‘French Touch’ prize for the French chef who was best able to promote regional products during the year. And the awards ceremony is a favourite event among the public too. But what matters most to the chefs is the chance to share their passion. ‘I come to the event with a lot of enthusiasm and the desire to make others discover cooking as a state of mind and a way of expression,’ says William Ledeuil, chef at Ze Kitchen Galerie in Paris. ‘Cooking has to be rich in exchanges, discovery and curiosity. The jousts are very original and the playful and relaxed side of cooking takes pride of place. And I really like this idea of chef and public, much more fun and amusing than the professional conferences!‘

gastronomades joute finale edition 2009

It is also a chance to get others interested in cooking, as there are stands about the different jobs involved in the food industry. ‘The Gastronomades is a great opportunity to open up dialogue, and perhaps, get young people interested in doing this job,’ says Michel Roth, chef at The Ritz. It’s also a chance to open up the cookery world to all. For Richard Toix, chef at Passions et Gourmandises in Poitiers, the Gastronomades is something to look forward to each year. ‘Professionals from all over have the chance to meet and share our passion with a public which does not always have the means to come to us,’ says Toix, who has taken part in the jousts. ‘I’ve been every year for the past four years. And this year will be no different - I’m going to be on holiday at the Gastronomades to cook for three days!’

Gastronomades Michel Roth  

In Angoulême the events are being held at the Place New York, the Place du Champ de Mars, the Place Louvel, the Place des Halles, the theatre and the courtyard of the town hall.

Originally published in Living Poitou-Charentes magazine.

Words: Becky Lawn Photos: Verrazano, S. Laval, Shutterstock