In The Hands Of A Chef


When the chef comes out of the kitchen to show you why he prefers sweet potatoes from Israel to those from Brazil, you know you’ve met someone whose heart is in his food.  No white jacket, no tall hat.  Just a love of great ingredients, subtle spices, and the people who come to him to be fed.

Craving spicy food and a drive in the sunny autumn countryside, we trekked some 80 kilometers, about 50 miles, to Le Vigan.  I’d stumbled upon this reference to Sirima Bamassé, a chef from Burkina Faso, producing soul-satisfying food in the Cévennes foothill town better known for its reinettes de Vigan apples than its African cuisine.  We had to have some.

Alas, as we learned when we arrived, one is supposed to order African food at least a day in advance.  Otherwise the menu consists of delicious-sounding French dishes that would tempt any diner, except those seeking the heat and exoticism of faraway places.  I asked whether, if we just put ourselves in his hands,  he would be so kind as to make us the most African meal possible under the circumstances, and his already warm smile grew brighter.


He started us with a gorgeous salad of lightly spicy and crispy shrimp, in a salad with a perfect balance of ginger, lime, and chile.  That, and a little dish of a “be very careful with this, only Africans can really eat it” hot sauce set our tastebuds to dancing.  For the record, Americans can eat it too, and are very willing and happy to do so.


Then we had a beautiful dish, centered on lush and velvety beef tongue, with fried sweet potatoes and plantain, and for the “little touch of the Cévennes” a ragout of forest mushrooms, chestnuts, and greens.  A spoonful of a spicy and salty mix, whose name sounded like quinquinquin, came alongside, and we sprinkled it and the “for Africans only” hot sauce liberally on our plates until our insides were all aglow, just as we’d wanted them to be.  If anybody knows about Burkinabé cuisine and knows the real name, and even better, the recipe, for that spice mix, please do tell! 

We followed that with a trio of crème brulées to share, pistachio, cardamom, and chicory, the last being my personal favorite.  It was one of our best restaurant meals ever in France, not to mention that the chef and his partner, who guards the front of the house, are the nicest people imagineable.

After he’d come to our table to show us the sweet potatoes, and even the beef from the cooler, to make a point about using the best ingredients possible, I asked her “Is he always like that, so generous?”  “Bien sûr, c’est un Africain,” she said.  “Of course, he’s African.”  And she went on to say “If an African has nothing but a banana, he’ll give you half.”


That’s just what we need in this world, and we’ll be going back for more as soon as we can.  You’re probably thinking that 80 kilometers is a long way to go for lunch, but then, you haven’t tasted this beautiful food.  Go, if you can, and call ahead, ask for Burkinabé food, and imagine an Africa where everyone has all the bananas they need.

Explore posts in the same categories: At Home In France

Tags: , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

9 Comments on “In The Hands Of A Chef”

  1. Mark Says:

    Wow, that looks and sounds fantastic….I was just thinking about African food today. Hope you guys are doing OK….

  2. Jeanne Says:

    I was thinking of you both today; NPR had a piece on the charcutrier’s Mass celebrated somewhere in Paris, I think. After the Mass, there is a huge food celebration and I wondered if you were on an adventure there – but this sounds so much better! What a wonderful way to spend the day!

  3. Lucy V Says:

    What a great meal that must have been.

  4. […] FRENCH LETTERS Food, Wine, France! « In The Hands Of A Chef […]

  5. Charles Says:

    Abra —

    Stephanie suggested that I pass along the name of a restaurant in which we had a lovely meal, for the next time you do a Robert Louis Stevenson and journey up into theCevennes. La Lozerette is, according to the Guide Michelin a “Bib Hotel” and “hotel du charm;” it’s wonderful restaurant is a Bib Gourmand.

    Located just outside of Florac it is indeed charming and the 29 euro dinner was wonderful. Website is here:

  6. I am SOOOOO jealous!! An Umbrian’s idea of exotic is…. Tuscan. I can almost taste that chili and lime….
    Totally off topic, except for Africa..Have you ever read any of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books? they take place in Botswana and might actually make you crave red bush tea and fried mealy worms.
    As always…your blog is a treat!
    Warmest regards and an abbraccione!

  7. Abra Bennett Says:

    Charles – thanks! We’ve actually been planning to try La Lozerette ever since I read your review of it on eGullet. We’ve been talking about taking a loop trip through the Cevennes and spending the night there.

    Judith – I adore the Ladies Detective Agency books, they’re some of my favorites ever!

  8. Wendy Says:

    We experienced this sort of lovely sharing and kindness when in South Africa, specifically Franschoek and Cape Town. How nice that you got to experience such a wonderful meal.

  9. ooh tongue! La langue de boeuf – j’adore. Can you spare any information on the sauce that went with it?

    Once more, I really want to say how appreciative I am of your evocative, well-written, beautifully illustrated vignettes on your lives if France. Things, that I, as a French native, might not even have paid attention to…

    Best wishes for Le Jour de Merci Donnant. and hope all is well with you and Shel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: