A few months back I happened upon one of the most delightful restaurants in France, hidden deep within the Minervois. So taken was I by the charm of the Patron, Frederic Guiraud, that I felt it only natural that we should conduct an interview with him about food, wine, and hospitality… subjects very close to his heart.
Good Food Revolution: Now how long your family been involved in the restaurant business?
Frederic Guiraud: We have had this family business for around about 120 years.
GFR: What was your very first job in the business?
FG: When you are the son of the owner you take the job of anyone who is needed!
GFR: …and how would you best explain your establishment restaurant d’Alibert in Caunes-Minervois?
FG: We are still essentially a family Auberge, and so a little like an institution… we still have guests from my grandparent’s generation, so it is like a second home for the clients… we can certainly say that we are part of the village story.
GFR: …and where exactly are you located?
FG: Between Carcassonne and Narbonne in the Minervois wine region.
GFR: You pride yourself in serving regional specialities?
FG: We make traditional French food all the year round using seasonal products but with those found just around the village, like wild asparagus, regular asparagus, the mushrooms from the “black mountain”, and also black truffles from Cabrespine, the next village.
GFR: …and then of course we have the Languedoc’s myriad wines… what are your personal favourites?
FG: I do have a preference for my friends’ wines… like Olivier Mandeville du Chateau Vaissiere, Jean-Baptiste Sénat du Domaine JB Sénat , David Pamiès de Lauraire de Lys, Jean-Louis Béllido du Domaine des Murettes and of course Robert Eden from Chateau Maris and a lot of more… I can’t name them all.
GFR: What are the significant changes that you have seen in the restaurant business over decades?
FG: Can I make a significant joke? We all know the saying “before and after Jesus Christ” here in the south of France we now say “before and after Ryanair “.
GFR: What in your mind makes for good service?
FG: Fun with the guest!
GFR: Over the years , where have you experienced the best service, whether in France or elswhere? FG: The best services I have experienced have been in my restaurant because it’s the theatre where I’ve played the most.
GFR:I was delighted to discover that you have quite strong relationship with the culinary community in Toronto?
FG: Many years ago I’ve met Libell Geedes here in Caunes , the owner of the restaurant The Fifth. In Toronto we became friends and she invite me to organise a wine tasting of my region’s wines. I went to Toronto , and I met Chefs Marc Thuet , JP Challet , Didier Leroy etc… then I came back with some French Chefs the Hithurriague brothers, from the Basque country and we organised a truffle dinner with the truffles from my village.
GFR: And what is your personal opinion of the dining scene of Toronto?
FG: I think Toronto is one of the best food places in Canada because the varietys of the possibility of type of cuisine you can find and of course the high level of the quality.
GFR: Do you have any particulary favourite spots that you visited?
FG: My two favorites restaurant are Didier, because the chef Didier make a fusion of the ancient French style cuisine with a north American touch, and for sure, the Fifth with my friend JP Challet and my friend Libell I think there the perfect team to present a beautiful cuisine in a wonferful place decorated by the great taste of Libell.
GFR: Canadian wines have come a hell of a long way since I arrived in Canada some 18 years ago. Have you had the opportunities to taste much on your visits to Toronto?
FG: I have a passion for sweet wines so I was impressed by the Icewines, the quality, the variety of grapes used for them, the sparkling Riesling one from Iniskilin ,the Cab Franc from some winery, I can’t mention all of them but there are all different and interesting. I was also very impressed by some other still wines I’ve found like some Vidal , some Zweigelt and more.
GFR: Do you have any plans to come back over to see us in Toronto anytime soon as we’d love to see you?
FG: No I have no plans , but I would like to come back to organise a typical southern french food and wine tasting, what we call here Cassoulet Party. If you have any ideas I’m ready!
GFR: Hmmmmm… that sounds good… let me think on that! What are your thoughts about music in restaurants?
FG: That’s a very good question, I think the music is one of the important elements of the party, but like that the wines and the food the music must be a strict selection with the music being the signature of the owner of the dining room… the music can be a good thing to break the ice and be a cement for what you asked me before, what it means to have good service.
GFR: I’d love to hear your opinions about on restaurant critics and how you feel about the legitimacy of guides like Michelin and there ilk?
FG: I think the best critics are your own opinions , sometimes it’s better to leave the stars in the sky and try to please your clients as much than you can I think the restaurant must be a social link but not a discussion on what we call here in France ” les reseaux sociaux”.
GFR: And then we have the democratization of food writting …bloggers, Instantgrammers, Twitter what do you think about all of that stuff?
FG: I can’t say, it’s like tools… you can make the pyramids or you can destroy them, so it’s a good thing but not in everyone’s hands, I know it’s not easy to control the river of publications , but what I can advise to any one it’s to made their own opinion and hallways think by yourself not through something not controlled.
GFR: Thanks so much for your answers!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And Frederic’s little spot is truly a thing of beauty.