France’s Most Influential Gourmand
by Tom Wolf
On a warm night in early June, I stepped out of Le Peletier Metro station in Paris’s ninth arrondissement, five minutes away from learning the answer to a question I’d mulled over for weeks. A month earlier, I’d invited François-Régis Gaudry to meet for an apéro or dinner, but I’d left the location up to him. After all, as the host of “On Va Déguster,” a nationally broadcast radio program about food across France and author of On Va Déguster Paris (out now in the U.S. as Let’s Eat Paris!), Gaudry knows the dining scene in Paris better than almost anyone. Now, I was about to discover which gem in the city’s crown of restaurants France’s most influential gourmand had chosen for our rendezvous.
It only took a minute upon sitting down at a table outside Lolo Cave à Manger on rue du Châteaudun for Gaudry to confess, “I don’t actually eat dinner, usually.” He must have seen the stunned look on my face because he quickly pulled out his phone and swiped through half a dozen photos of that day’s lunch, a seemingly endless parade of dishes, some of them swimming in cream or butter. Because of his métier, this is how most weekday lunches go, and as a result, he considers his evenings a respite from consumption, a period of recovery that often extends until 10 a.m. the following day. To my surprise, whatever fleeting disappointment I felt that I would not sample the menu of a restaurant hand-picked by the country’s preeminent expert on French and Parisian dining was replaced by relief. For the previous two weeks, as my colleagues and I traversed France and Italy, vignerons served us heaping plates of charcuterie, Comté, and the seasonal white asparagus, as though we were training for the Tour de France and needed to stockpile calories. After such intense eating and countless bottles of wine, I was happy to forgo an extended meal, even if my companion had an unrivaled Rolodex of Paris’s—and France’s—best culinary addresses.
To know Gaudry’s work, though, is to know that he finds the home-prepared plates of charcuterie, Comté, and white asparagus as fundamental to French cuisine as any Parisian restaurant. After all, in the thirteen years since he started hosting “On Va Déguster”—a sort of “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” meets “No Reservations,” on French public radio—Gaudry has dedicated an episode to each of these three staples of the French table. If creating an hour’s worth of entertaining radio content around such everyday ingredients as asparagus sounds like an impossible feat, guess again. Assembling a panel each week of producers, chefs, and other culinary experts, Gaudry balances blind tastings, panelist banter, recipe suggestions, wine pairings, field reporting, and more to bring France’s victuals to life in a way that would make Alice Waters or Michael Pollan smile.
Throughout my two-week-long adventures with my colleagues, “On Va Déguster” popped up unexpectedly on multiple occasions, reaffirming that its audience of a staggering two million weekly live listeners is not limited to Parisian foodies. At Château Thivin, on Beaujolais’ Côte de Brouilly, Gaudry’s fun and comprehensive “encyclopéguide”—part encyclopedia, part guide— On Va Déguster la France peeked out from a stack of books in the dining room. And when I asked Valentin Montanet, a Vézelay vigneron who’d served us our second delicious dish of white asparagus topped with an exquisite mousseline, if he was familiar with the radio host and his program, he replied that he and his family listen to it every Sunday while cooking or doing household chores. “His show reminds listeners that good produce and products form the foundation of French cuisine, and these products come from people who put their hearts into their work. On top of that, his show shines a light on vignerons, vigneronnes, and appellations that sometimes fall outside the mainstream. That’s largely thanks to his panelists, who do a very good job.”
Michel Tolmer, the renowned illustrator who designed the label for our new Côtes du Rhône Villages at the beginning of this month’s newsletter, also listens to “On Va Déguster” every week and echoed this point about Gaudry’s great taste in panelists and subjects. One of the program’s wine chroniqueurs, Jérome Gagnez, for instance, is such a thoughtful and curious commentator that upon being challenged as a “Bordeaux basher” many years ago, Gagnez dove so deeply into the region’s wines that he eventually packed up his things in Paris and moved to the famed wine city on the Garonne River.
As I parted ways with Gaudry around 9 p.m. and walked back to my hotel, the city was still filled with light and the sidewalks teemed with Parisians enjoying a glass of wine or a meal. Crossing through the second arrondissement and into the third, I thought of the home-made pâtés I’d eaten chez Benoît Cantin in Irancy and Alain Pascal in Bandol; Agnès Henry’s vast vegetable garden, also in Bandol; the divine chèvre the Bruniers made from their herd of goats in Gigondas; and, of course, the tender spears of white asparagus prepared by Valentin and his family. As perfectly suited as Gaudry is to his job—with his voracious interest in every aspect of regional French foodways—the success of “On Va Déguster” is also a reflection of a uniquely gourmand people, who remain devoted to the table.