- Rennes as seen by… -
A culinary journalist talks about food, meets the chefs, writes about local products. There are less pleasant jobs out there. In Rennes, Olivier Marie is known as the white wolf in almost every kitchen. Especially those he favours with his pen: the quality gastronomy, those who work with local, fresh and seasonal produce. All Rennes citizens are aware that they are spoiled for choice to eat well in their own city. So, to whet your appetite, we decided to meet someone who knows it best.
Olivier's daily work consists not only of taking (beautiful) photos, writing stories or making portraits of great chefs. It also entails making the rounds of the tables. This is what he refers to as Radio casserole, the pan radio: a tour of bistros, phone calls to the chefs, an impromptu visit to a market gardener, etc.
"We talk about each other's news, and gossip. Radio casserole is cuisine within cuisine! "
On Monday the Tire-Bouchon, the next day at the Arsouille, Wednesday at a cheese market in Sainte-Thérèse. "We are fortunate to have strong personalities. They are often very down to earth people, who like to chat. But not all the time, of course. "
" When talking about gastronomy, we all too often talk of business, brasseries that pass from hand to hand, the big bosses who own half the restaurants in town. I'm not interested. I love the chefs, the cuisine and what's on the plate. It is often said that good food is a concern for people who have the means. This is not necessarily true! One might decide to eat less, but better. especially when it comes to meat.
It's my job : to look at Rennes, and Brittany, and the cooks and the producers who rely on quality. Rennes has an astounding range of restaurants. This is not the image the city has; it is neither equivalent to Lyon or Toulouse, but this is changing. Across Brittany, there is an incredible dynamism and a broad variety of products. "
Olivier Marie is certainly straightforward. When he loves something, he praises it and gets excited about it. If he does not, not only does he say it, but he also writes it. "I have received so many insult mails. But I will continue to fight to change the image of the Breton gastronomy. From the countryside and to the sea, the diversity is phenomenal. There is a level of creativity, and a wealth to be revealed. "
So what does he prefer? First the bistro, the small restaurant that knows how to choose fresh quality produce. He also regularly visits the best starred restaurants. They are four in Rennes and the surroundings that have Michelin stars (1).
However, this fine face, at ease with everyone and especially among the greatest chefs (Camdeborde, Ducasse, Passard et al), is also a fan of ... sausage crepe.
"The Gallo country speciality! The combination of what people have always eaten here, pork and crepe. Simple, cheap and famous. "
He stands up for the "take away", smoked fish sandwiches, burger food trucks, the fish n'chips. "We are very good at this in the centre. But I hope that in the future there will be more takeaway food; good things to nibble at while on the move.
He dreams of eateries where one might try cooked artichokes, soaked in a sauce; Brittany pork toasts; seafood on a paper plate.
The paradox is only apparent: "I like simple things, well done. "From the burger joint to the starred restaurant, he seeks one thing in common: quality.
"Who said that in Brittany all we eat is crepes and butter cookies? There are some very good creperies in rue Saint-Georges and in old Rennes. But when I see crepes with the scallops in summer, I want to scream. Its not the season! Honestly, in Rennes, there are so many good restaurants to spend ones time. A simple tip to get your bearings everywhere, in every city: if the menu is too long, turn and run! No good restaurant offers ten meats, 12 fish, pancakes, pizzas and whatever else. It might feel like a deal, but you'll have been had."
An important man in Rennes (and French) cuisine, Olivier paints a flattering portrait: "He's really good. He spends all his time on the road, searching all around to find fine producers and restaurants. It is a mammoth task! Above all he loves the people and this is the most important thing."
This eulogy is not just from anyone: David Etcheverry, head of the starred restaurant Le Saison. This Basque fell in love with Brittany and her cuisine and has been living in Saint-Grégoire, just north of Rennes, for 13 years.
"We have everything in Brittany. It is hard to imagine the shear variety of products. I want people to breathe easy and to feel good. As a chef, I am responsible for their nutritional health. ". These words bring a smile to Olivier Marie's face: "David is the most generous man I know, no exaggerating !"
No wonder he gets on so well with people in Rennes. "Saint-Grégoire is a bubble of calm and serenity. "Every detail is scrutinised: temperature, light, a very soft and warm sound.
Menus from €50.
Le Saison, 1 impasse du vieux Bourg 35760 Saint Grégoire 00 33 (0)2 99 68 79 35.
"Rennes is a market town. We must rely on that, and on this culture. Each day of the week, almost every neighbourhood has its market, of varying sizes, each with its own identity. Above all, we have the Lices market. It's very big. This is the second most important food market in France. The connection to the land is steeped in the history of Rennes: the farmers and city dwellers have been meeting here for a long time. This is a strong hold and a landmark of the city."
David Etcheverry, chef of the starred restaurant Le Saison adds the final remark:
"The Lices market should be classed as a UNESCO world heritage site. "
Every Saturday morning, Olivier Marie makes his rounds of the Lices. He met the chefs, who come for provisions early in the morning; but also the producers he knows well.
"I often go to see the same people, simply because they are good, period. Because they work well, they care about the produce. I will never understand selling tomatoes or cherries in winter, except during abnormally warm periods; this is unacceptable."
This morning, he jumps on a batch of huge, misshapen and multicoloured tomatoes.
"The appearance is not important; eating well is. This is the great challenge of our society. "
And that is the heart of his philosophy, which says it all: Eat well, live well.
Take care of oneself and others. His Rennes is above all a Rennes of pleasures. Gustatory pleasures, visual pleasures, and the pleasure of encounters.
"Before I spent much time in bars, where the Rennes spirit can be found. People talk easily, with anyone. I go less now because I don't have the time. Now when I walk through town, I look at the new buildings. The city is changing, there are construction sites everywhere."
He lives near the François Mitterrand mall, a fine example of this mutation in Rennes.
"It has become a place to stroll, and has rediscovered its original vocation. Cars out! Look at the sports facilities, the muscle builders! And the building by Jean Nouvel, I love it. Well, the apartments are hugely overpriced, but I'm a fan of good architecture. We also have a new small organic market; its very friendly. Just behind, there is another place I love, le café des Bricoles. The owner is a character, and the terrace is great. And, the food is good."
With Olivier, everything always comes down to the food.
"With my work, I am aware there are many things that I can not say. I have become friends with the chefs, I can not speak ill of them. I know I am criticised for it. I also know that sometimes they have setbacks, and what they produce is not as good as usual. I can no longer be objective. I think I need to stick to a simple rule: if I do not like what someone does, I do not talk about it. Simply."
Lets talk about his favourite taverns. The Arsouille restaurant is one of his regulars. The keeper is Christophe Gaucher, and no ordinary taverner.
"You had better eat what they serve you, otherwise you might get scolded. He's like that. So, he cooks wonderfully; with incredible talent. "
What if all geniuses were hard with their peers? With Christophe and a dozen other more or less temperamental characters too, Olivier set up the bistro Ateliers du bistrot association, where one can find the pioneers of bistrology such as Marianne Boisselier, from the Tire-Bouchon ("it is not just a fashion; bistrology came to Rennes over 20 years ago, thanks to people like Marianne "); Un midi dans les Vignes, Cuisiniers ambulants, the Cook Cook food truck (former chef from the Entonnoir, an excellent restaurant, unfortunately no longer open), to the master of snacks, Chez Paul ... could this be cronyism? Of course!
"But apart from being friends, they are the people whose work I love. From the common cuisine for all, in all its shapes and sizes, the 7-hour lamb sandwich. " (note: cooking lasts seven hours, fabulous speciality of the Atelier Gourmet restaurant , rue Nantaise, no set time, 7 pm! Some misunderstanding has crept into one of Olivier's articles. Because the opportunity has presented itself, let us put the record straight.) As he writes on his Goûts d’Ouest website, "bistrology is quality on the plates and in the glasses. The idea is to encourage people to come discover the cuisine and the wines. We want to share this philosophy, this ethic with all Rennes. "
This means with every passing visitor to the city of Rennes that resembles the members of Olivier's association: cheerful and open, gourmet, hardworking and hedonistic; and sometimes, admittedly, a little grumpy.