Healthy food in France

Wendy Hollands - 30/06/13 -

The French Alps is a region synonymous with skiing, smelly cheese and ridiculously strong home-made spirits. Many locals see tourists as annoying but necessary to sell their the local products to during their stay.

One example is the picturesque ski resort of La Clusaz — an old farming village where the farmers are still influential. The farm shops dotted around the resort sell Reblochon cheese made only in the Aravis valley and the restaurants in town offer shots of Genepi as a digestive. Traditional meals include fondue (melted cheese with bread), raclette (melted cheese with potatoes) and tartiflette (melted cheese with potatoes and bacon). Vegetarians are often limited to salad or chips. ‘Health food’ means coffee without milk to avoid stomach upsets.

So how hass a new Asiatic restaurant thrived in La Clusaz and why has a small Haute Savoyarde bakery chain started offering three different types of gluten-free bread? It seems that the new generation of locals are also speaking with their wallets.

Julien Cantenot from Le Paniere bakery created a gluten-free bread after a trip to Australia, where he came across gluten-free products regularly. He saw a niche for his family bakery and spent six months developing an organic gluten-free bread. He expects people to buy it “because they like it and not because it’s gluten free”. Sales took off immediately when he launched it in March, and Le Panier now supplies some organic shops in Annecy as well. “France has a bit of a delay with organic products,” he said.

Wendy Hollands - 30/06/13 -

The owners of Le Panier like challenges: they have already won a battle for longer trading hours and are now able to sell bread every day of the week and on public holidays including Christmas day. Selling gluten-free sandwiches in a region that sticks with tradition is a challenge they hope to take on soon. Julien explains: “I think it’s more difficult in Haute Savoie compared with big cities like Lyon or Paris because food habits don’t change that fast in this region. People have really traditional food habits — like the ham and cheese sandwich is still trendy. They really want that product and they’re not so ready to change their habits.

Wendy Hollands - 30/06/13 - www.MyFrenchLife.orgJacky Demeule and his wife Khean, who opened an Asiatic restaurant in La Clusaz at the start of 2011, may disagree. “There are lots of people here who had never eaten Asian food before, but 80 per cent of our clients are locals. Our food tastes fresh and the clients have reacted well to that.” He said the first few winter months were slow, with the locals busy working and the tourists preferring to eat at more traditional restaurants. Business picked up when the season ended and residents had more time, and Chez Khean now regularly fills to capacity.

Wendy Hollands - 30/06/13 -

The influx of health food shops across Haute Savoie may be another indication that the region is broadening its tastes. Unlikely to ever lose its charm, Haute Savoie may benefit from this in the long run, with a boost in tourism from those who would like broader eating options. Chez Khean are perhaps be a useful gauge after their reassessment in September, when they decided they should stay open for another winter. He’s prematurely optimistic: “I hope that we’re able to find a bigger place because this place is too small.”

Image credits: 
1. Views of the ski slopes from Chez Khean in the Aravis valley.
2. Gluten-free bread made and sold at bakeries in the French Alps.
3. Le Panier’s three varieties of gluten-free bread.
4. Jacky and Khean outside their Asiatic restaurant in La Clusaz

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Wendy Hollands

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