Unlike many French food fairs, Dijon’s Foire Internationale et Gastronomique actually prioritises eating and drinking. SUE STYLE tastes her way round an epicentre of epicurean delights

Food fairs are scattered throughout the French calendar like raisins in a fruitcake. And as with cakes, some fairs rise to the occasion better than others. Dijon’s Foire Internationale et Gastronomique is one to put on your list. It dates back to the 1920s, and the dark days following the First World War. The then mayor, Gaston Gérard, looking for a way to boost the local economy and bring a bit of good cheer to the battleweary Dijonnais, came up with the idea of a fair that would bolster the city’s longestablished reputation as an international gastronomic capital. The calendar was consulted and November was chosen, a slack time of the year on the farms and in the vineyards, when grapes and blackcurrants were quietly fermenting, mustard seeds had been harvested, crushed and mixed with newly fermented verjus, and Burgundy snails were reaching their peak of pre-hibernation perfection. And since the Foire was to be first and foremost a family feast, the dates would embrace the public holidays of All Saints (November 1st) at one end and Armistice Day (November 11th) at the other. This year the fair will mark its 78th incarnation, again in the first two weeks of November. If you’re planning an autumn trip to Burgundy’s vineyards, you may want to build in a Dijon detour. Held on the edge of town in apurposebuilt exhibition space, it offers a full-on French experience, great atmosphere and liberal samplings of edibles and potables.

One thing that sets Dijon’s festivities apart is that, unlike many French food fairs,

it really merits its moniker as a foire gastronomique. The bulk of the business, concentrated on the ground floor, is visibly devoted to affairs of the stomach. The beds, fridges, sewing machines and swimming pool accoutrements that seem to dominate most of the so-called food fairs in France today are consigned to the first floor. Another plus point is that, in spite of plentiful opportunities to sample both food and drink, you don’t see people grabbing everything in sight as if threatened by imminent famine. It’s all good, relatively clean fun – a cheerful, family affair that cuts right across social classes and age groups. But to elicit the utmost fun, there are some pointers worth taking into account…

A question of tasting

Make sure you check the programme as you go in, so you don’t miss anything. Basically, it all boils down to tasting, buying, more tasting, a little chefwatching – and then more tasting, just in case you missed anything. Start with the taxing business of sampling and purchasing: equip yourself with a stout shopping bag and somerudimentary French vocab and go to work on Dijon’s three wonders: pain d’épices (gingerbread), cassis and moutard. Mulot et Petitjean (see box below for contact details) is the uncontested gingerbread specialist. Its stand, in the middle of the main hall, even looks like the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel, and the air is perfumed with honey, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. At the Gabriel Boudier booth, you’ll find its celebrated crème de cassis, still sold in its distinctive 1874-designed square bottle, the label gloriously gilded and festooned with blackcurrants, coats of arms and curlicued writing. On a nearby stand, L’Européenne de Condiments is breathing new life into the mustard market with a splendid range in vivid colours and flamboyant flavours. Some, such as the deep crimson mustard made with figs and rosemary or the sunset-coloured red pepper mustard, fulfil the usual condiment/chutney role. Others are specially designed for a little kitchen saucery – sear some chicken, fish, meat or vegetables in a ridged grill pan, whisk some mustard into the cooking juices

along with a splodge of cream and you have a speedy, spicy sauce. Exhibitors change from year to year, but visitors are always sure to find stands piled high with cheese, including wheels of 18-month-aged Comté from the Jura and Beaufort d’Alpage from the Haute- Savoie, pungent smoked and cured meats

from both of these regions as well as Périgord truffles and foie gras, plus honey and snails galore. Let’s get cooking With bag bursting and feet protesting, it’s time to settle down at the demo kitchen, bristling with shiny new ovens and the latest chef equipment, and staffed by the Amicale des Cuisiniers de la Côte d’Or. This is the forum for numerous foodie events, with guest workshops by local chefs and cookery instructors such as Stéphane Derbord (see box, right) and Jean-Paul Thibert (see below) and baking and pastry contests.A highlight is the Concours Jeunes Espoirs, in which eight young chefs, selected from a list of more than 100 hopefuls, have three and a half hours to come up with two exquisite and elaborate courses, each for six people, working with a budget of just €62 (£49). When time is up, the dishes are tasted and rated by the jury, presided over by one of Burgundy’s starred chefs – last year MarcMeneau from L’Espérance in Vézelay, this year Georges Blanc from his eponymous Vonnas restaurant – and then the dishes are passed around for the lucky audience to try. To get the full flavour of the fair, it is best to visit on one of the five days

when it’s open till late. Then you can cruise around the edge of the great hall and up in the gallery to check out the menus and the mood of the various restaurants. Some are regionally focused – try the Bistrot La Bourgogne for snails, oeufs en meurette and beef bourguignon, or the Auberge Alsacienne for choucroute, pig’s trotters and sundry porky pieces; others major on one speciality, such as the Temple du Fromage for a cheese blowout or the Ecailler de la Presqu’île for a shellfish feast. Each year, a different country is elected as guest of honour at the fair – in 2008 it’s Thailand – with a restaurant to showcase its national specialities.

From market to market: Where to buy Dijon delicacies…

Dijon’s bustling market, Les Halles Centrales, (Rue Odebert, open Monday to

Friday morning and all day Saturday) is a good indicator of the city’s passion for

food. Designed in the 1880s by Gustave Eiffel and now restored to its full 19thcentury glory, it’s an ornate, blue-gold, glass-fronted monument to gourmandise. An elegant lady selects fine herbs, oakleaf, lambs’ lettuce, chicory and other autumnal salads, while a young man in Barbour coat and highly polished shoes hesitates between a neatly boned saddle of wild boar and a haunch of venison to partner his chanterelles. Around the corner, on Rue Bannelier, the superb Porcheret cheese shop does a brisk trade in Epoisses, a pungent, orange cushion of a cheese bathed in Marc de Bourgogne, hunks of well-aged Comté from the Jura and oozy wedges of Cîteaux from the eponymous abbey nearby. On the rue du Bourg, master chocolatier Fabrice Gillotte creates

designer chocolates and bite-sized macaroons in delicate pastel shades. Towards midday, shoppers thread their way home through cobbled streets lined with timber-framed houses, baguettes under their arm and packages of pâtisserie held high by their ribbons. The shutters come down and the Dijonnais devote themselves to the all-important business of lunch. Crèmerie Porcheret, 18 rue Bannelier or Les Halles Centrales. Tel: +33 3 80 30 21 05 www.cremerie-porcheret.com Fabrice Gillotte, 21 rue du Bourg.

Tel: +33 3 80 30 38 88 www.chocolat-gillotte.com Gabriel Boudier, 14 rue de Cluj. Tel: +33 3 80 74 33 33 www.boudier.com La Maison du Pain d’Epices Mulot et Petitjean, 13 Place Bossuet. Tel: +33 3 80 30 07 10 www.mulotpetitjean.fr

L’Européenne de Condiments, 7 rue Jean Moulin, Couchey. Tel: +33 3 80 51 52 00

www.moutardes.com Jean-Paul Thibert, Cours de Cuisine, 45 Boulevard de Troyes, Talant. Tel: +33 3 80 56 64 12 jp.thibert@libertysurf.fr

Where to Eat…

When you tire of the fair you can put Dijon’s claims as a gastronomic capital to the test in the city’s restaurants. Directly opposite the wonderfully extravagant Palais des Ducs is the grand Le Pré aux Clercs (below), where chef Jean-Pierre Billoux elegantly reinterprets classic Burgundian dishes.

At his more modestly priced Bistrot des Halles, market traders and gastronomes

alike tuck into restorative slabs of home-made pâtés and game terrines. On Place Wilson, Stéphane Derbord’s cooking is clearly anchored in Burgundy

but given a beautifully modern twist: foie gras in a gingerbread crust, simmered

snails with crushed tomatoes, roast zander from the Saône with Pinot Noir sauce and millefeuilles or rum babas. At the Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, William Frachot serves explosively modern dishes in a fiery red dining room: sweetbreads with balsamic vinegar and white chocolate, wok-sautéed soft-shell crabs with ginger béarnaise, or monkfish with Iberian pata negra ham. Black-clad, earring-wearing David Zuddas has handed over the Auberge de la Charme in Prenois outside Dijon to another rising star, Nicolas Isnard, and is now supervising a trendy bistro called D Z’envies on the Place du Marché while he contemplates his next move. Expect more of his super-modern, Japanese-inspired jeune cuisine in slick presentations (black slates/white plates)

and exciting flavour combinations. Le Pré aux Clercs, 13 Place de la Libération. Tel: +33 3 80 38 05 05 www.le-pre-aux-clercs.com Le Bistrot des Halles, 10 rue Bannelier. Tel: +33 3 80 49 94 15 Restaurant Stéphane Derbord, 10 Place Wilson. Tel: +33 3 80 67 74 64

www.restaurantstephanederbord.fr

Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, 5 rue

Michelet. Tel: +33 3 80 50 88 88

www.chapeau-rouge.fr

DZ’Envies, 12 Rue Odebert. Tel: +33 3 80

50 09 26 www.dzenvies.com

Written by Sue Style