Tour of regional classics

For her new cookbook From the Source – France, author Carolyn Boyd travelled the length and breadth of France to meet the chefs who cook some of the country’s best loved dishes. Here three of them – from Brittany, the Alps and the Riviera – talk about their favourites


The fishing port of Douarnenez, on the far northern tip of Brittany, was made famous in the 19th century by its booming industry producing tins of sardines, enabling the world to enjoy the fresh taste of the sea. Local chef Gaël Ruscart uses this simple ingredient in a delicious pâté.

As one of France’s biggest ports for sardine fishing, the Finistère town of Douarnenez is inhabited by those who know how best to eat the small oily fish. The son of a fisherman, chef Gaël Ruscart remembers his parents’ advice: ‘Just fillet them, and eat them fresh and raw on bread and butter,’ he says. ‘That’s how they used to eat them.’ These days, however, chefs and home cooks are a little more ambitious with the town’s freshest catch and prefer to eat their sardines grilled on a barbecue or in a salad. ‘They just need a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon. There’s no need to mess around with them too much.’

Yet, not all of us are lucky enough to enjoy the daily catch that lands on the Finistère coast, but a revolutionary canning technique made the town its fortune in preserving that fresh taste for a wider market. After the first conserverie (canning factory) opened in 1853, dozens more followed, and by the end of the 19th century Douarnenez’s 32 factories were supplying the world with canned sardines. These eye-catching tins, with colourful labels and designs, became the emblem of the town. Among the most famous producers ...

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