Food is often one of the most important elements in travel, decidedly more so when the travelers in question are chefs.
Meet Lise and Eric, two chefs with international backgrounds who have put food at the forefront of their travel experiences. After they realized their shared passion for ingredients, they set off on a year-long journey through France to discover sustainable farming techniques, taste the savoir and faire of artisanal producers, and meet the individuals who keep France’s culinary scene fresh.
I caught up with them to learn more about their project, Bon Fond, and to hear about the delicious dishes they’ve eaten along the way.
How did your background in food lead you to this project?
We’ve both worked at Michelin-starred institutions and regional restaurants. Seeing local producers deliver their wares each day was a dream — foraged mushrooms, prize-winning chickens, perfectly ripe vegetables, succulent pork that had only eaten chestnuts and acorns. We always wanted to know the steps the producer took before arriving at the restaurant door, so Bon Fond was an obvious trip for us to take.
We created Bon Fond to fulfill a desire to understand and participate in the daily work of the producers. We also wanted to share these experiences with a larger public, so that everyone could see how much love and work is put into farming and artisanal food production. France is the perfect place for us to discover and share these producers; despite the fact that it’s a relatively small country, it has an enormous amount of artisanal producers who care deeply about their terroir (the effect that the producer’s growing techniques, mineral composition of the earth, and the seasons have on the final product) and history. We could have easily created a year-long trip for each individual region!
What went into preparing for the trip itself?
We’ve thought about this trip individually for years, so we were mentally ready to leave the minute we realized it was a common dream. In reality, it took us about a year and a half to figure out how we could travel, which route we wanted to take, who we could ask to help us make initial contact with producers, and, of course, how much money we would need to save to make it all happen!
First, we asked Stéphane Gabrielly — a chef at Ferrandi, a culinary school based in Paris — if he would be our project mentor. He’s a fanatic when it comes to ingredients and small producers, just like us, so he quickly accepted and put us in touch with artisans across the country.
Then we decided that it would be best to buy an RV, so that we could have flexibility in our route and wouldn’t have to impose on our hosts for showers or sleeping arrangements. It took us about a year of serious research to find the RV that was the right price, in good condition, and the style we wanted. In the end, we bought a cute little toaster of a van — a 1990 Hymer that we named “Marcel.” The day we bought the van, we realized that there’s an RV club here in France, and everyone waves to each other on the road. It’s hysterical.
Where have you been so far?
Since mid-January, we’ve traveled around Normandy, Brittany, the Loire, and the Charentes.
Brittany was a new discovery for us, and we ended up staying there for about a month. In that short period of time, we completely fell in love with the bright-turquoise waters, rocky shores, and incredible gastronomy. Because it’s the westernmost region of France, the weather changes every five minutes or so. A charcutier we met said it’s like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in one day. We also decided that we’ll be heading back to the Loire and Charentes regions again soon — too much to see, not enough time!
In just a few months, we’ve picked apples with a cult cider maker, made mandarin marmalade with the World Champion of Jams, fed freshly foraged algae to the only organic abalone in France, made andouille sausage with a Top 20 charcutier, and bottled the only Pineau des Charentes vinegar in the world. It’s been incredible.
Can you tell me about some of the people you’ve met along the way?
We’ve met exceptional, life-changing people in the short time we’ve been traveling. Everyone’s hospitality has been above and beyond anything we could have ever dreamed of, and it’s been hard to say goodbye to each producer when our three- or four-day stay is over. We plan to keep in touch with all of the producers we’ve visited simply because they’ve become our wise godparents.
We started Bon Fond by visiting Cyril Zangs, who makes cider using Champagne-style methods, which is unheard of in the industry. We were incredibly lucky to start our journey at Cyril’s — he’s super laid-back, generous, and hardworking. He set the bar pretty high.
We met Stephan Perrotte, a World Champion Jammaker, who has won gold medals every year for his jams. He knows the level of pectin in each fruit by heart and creates truly unique flavor combinations.
We met Françoise Fleuriet, the Pineau des Charentes vinegar maker, and her husband Philippe, who create preserves using vegetables from their garden. You can taste the love and attention they put into every bottle.
We met Olivier Helibert, one of France’s best charcutiers, who makes the best boudin and pâté Breton we’ve ever tried.
And we also met Wilfried Quinveros of the Fumoir de Saint Cast, a homeopathic pharmaceutical salesman who now makes the most tender, cold-smoked scallops that are sourced directly from the icy Breton waters. The list goes on.
What have you learned from this journey so far?
That minimalism is definitely the best way to live. That you should be thankful for the simple things like fresh water, heat, and a comfortable bed. That humans are truly wonderful beings and their generosity can surprise you when you least expect it. That people who have changed their professional paths are open and willing to try anything in order to make their passion a success.
And that gas is expensive!
I’m sure you’ve had some amazing meals — what has been the best?
All of the producers we’ve visited have treated us with such overwhelming hospitality. Sylvain Huchette of France Haliotis and Wilfried Quinveros of Le Fumoir de St Cast were exceptionally generous.
Sylvain invited us to his house after a full day out on the water feeding the abalone. Together, we brought home a massive box full of abalone, and he showed us four different ways to cook them: Japanese style with a saké, soy, and wakamé dashi; thinly sliced and raw; in tempura with freshly cut dill from the garden; and the Breton style, sautéed in salted butter.
Wilfried invited us over to his house in a blizzard after we had worked in the smokehouse, and he treated us to an incredible lunch and dinner of caviar, local vegetables, and his artisanally cold-smoked scallops, salmon, haddock, and trout. He kept bringing gorgeous slices of fish out of the fridge and encouraged us to cook them using whatever method inspired us. These were once-in-a-lifetime meals.
What does the rest of your itinerary look like?
Our schedule is loosely structured and largely determined by the producer’s availability. Right now, we are in the Loire Valley and will visit a few producers before heading to Paris for a pop-up at Café Mericourt in mid-April. Then we are heading down to Corsica for a month to learn about artisanal production on the beautiful island before it gets too busy
during the summer. In June, we are heading back to the mainland and will continue our spiral-shaped journey around France where we left off: to the Aquitaine, Pyrénées, Auvergne, Rhône Alpes, Burgundy, Alsace, and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
How are you hoping that this project will impact your cooking and your lives?
We are learning so much about cooking with the terroir. This is an opportunity to fully dive in to each region’s specialties and experience terroir to its fullest degree, which will certainly impact our cooking style and reinforce our sourcing habits for ingredients. Each producer has shown us their favorite recipes, which has allowed us to understand and respect the products even more.
Bon Fond has changed us and will continue to do so in ways we cannot even imagine right now. The community of people we are building around Bon Fond is made up of such special individuals, and we feel incredibly lucky to have them in our lives. Each of these producers has allowed us to peek into their daily lives and have shown us many different lifestyles. We hope to settle down one day and create a beautiful world that we can share with others in the same way these people have done for us. At this precise moment, we are not exactly sure what that world is going to look like, but we’ve got our eyes and ears open and are looking for the spark that will light the fire. The long-term goal right now is to publish a book about our Bon Fond experiences.
What do you want your followers to take away from Bon Fond?
First and foremost, we want to encourage our followers to discover, respect, and support culinary artisans around their homes as much as possible. We want them to learn that eating well doesn’t have to cost a lot and that seeking out local farmers can help build even stronger communities. We hope to inspire our viewers to follow their dreams, show them that there are many ways of living (some of which they may not have considered before), and prove that the norm is not always the best option.
All photos by Lise Kvan.