Here's How to Learn Southern French Wine and Food With Some of the City's Best Chefs
"Usually, when people travel to France, they travel to Paris and the French Riviera," says Marianne Fabre-Lanvin, the executive director of Sud de France Développement, an organization that works to bring more attention to the southern part of the country. And that's a shame, she says, because southern France -- which includes Provence, Languedoc-Rousillon, and parts of the country that border Spain -- has a lot to offer, especially to gastronomic tourists.
Sud de France A scene from last year's double decker wine crawl
In an effort to raise awareness around the wines and cuisine of that part of France, Fabre-Lanvin and her organization have been throwing an annual summer festival here in New York City for the last six years. This year, it kicks off on June 9 and runs through the end of the month, featuring a series of dinners with an all-star line-up of chefs.
"Every year, we try to make the program as cool as possible, and we're really happy with the chef line-up this year," says Fabre-Lanvin. "We look for young and dynamic chefs that want to experiment and find it interesting, since the region is kind of under the radar." Look for feasts from Estela's Ignacio Mattos (who will cook aboard the Water Table restaurant), Contra chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabien von Hauske, Reynard's Sean Rembold, Navy's Camille Becerra, and The Cleveland's Max Sussman, who will cook with his brother Eli.
And Paul Liebrandt is cooking for the kickoff party, doing his own freestyle on cassoulet. "He likes to do bold things out of the box," says Fabre-Lanvin "He has an amazing recipe for shrimp cassoulet. It's very funny, extremely delicious, and I can't wait to try it." That fete also takes place aboard a boat, and it'll feature a DJ set from Nancy Whang, formerly of LCD Soundsystem, too.
While these chefs' backgrounds seem a bit divergent from southern French cooking, Fabre-Lanvin says it was an easy sell to get them on board with the cuisine, and not only because many of them trained in French technique. "All the chefs really want to experiment with a traditional recipe," she says. "That region is interesting. You get this mix of amazing culture and dishes, and they're really excited about making their own versions -- about bringing their New York twist to these traditional recipes."
Look for twists on bouillabaise and the rousquille, a Catalan cookie, for instance, both specialties of the region. You'll also taste wine from southern France at each event -- this festival evolved from a wine festival, meant to celebrate unknown producers who were virtually unknown here in the States. "Wine is very important," says Fabre-Lanvin. "Thirty percent of the wine made in France is made in Languedoc. We've kept the wine-pairing prices for dinners very reasonable."
If you'd rather taste more traditional southern French fare, you might instead check out the guinguette -- essentially a southern French block party -- happening on June 22. There, you'll be able to taste brandade de morue, a beloved salt cod dish, prepared by Atrium's Laurent Kalkotour, who hails from France, plus a number of other imports. "We're really trying to recreate the ambiance of southern France," says Fabre-Lanvin.
And if you're interested in learning more about the region's wines, join one of the double decker bus bar crawls, which will take you to a number of sites for sampling (and you'll eat, too). A brass band will entertain you as you travel.
Events are ticketed separately, and you'll need to head over to the Sud de France festival's website to get your hands on them. Note that many of them are currently sold out -- Sud de France will release more tickets on June 2, so check back then if there's something specific you want to attend.