Feeding the beast

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Yolandi Groenewald, Paris

With more than 40 000 delegates attending COP21 in Paris, feeding picky palates from all over the world in a sustainable manner was always going to be a challenge.

Organisers saw the conference as the ideal vehicle to showcase the gastronomic skills of French gourmet cuisine, with a distinctly environmental flavour. The challenge was to create responsible meals for all tastes, using “low-budget bistronomique” meals, along with self-service restos and snack bars.

One of France’s most famous and popular boulangeries, Paul, is a favourite at the conference. Organisers also wanted to give visitors a glimpse of what goes on in a French kitchen baking bread every day, so one of the first sights delegates get at the climate talks is a see-through bakery where Paul’s finest pastry chefs are kneading bread and creating croissants.

Bags of flour litter the floor, while delicious smells emerge from the hot ovens. The fresh bread is baked on the spot with Normandy flour. More than 10 000 loaves of French bread are baked at the see-through bakery every day.

Paul is a family-owned French chain of bakery-cafés established in 1889 in Croix, northern France, and is now represented in 41 countries. South Africans will also have the chance to sample its fare after a South African company signed a deal with the French chain to open a few boulangeries in South Africa.

While Paul’s baguettes are proving a hit among COP21 delegates, with even ministers queuing up for a fresh baguette sandwich, the conference centre also offers a typical French fine dining restaurant.

Gourmet cuisine

The official caterers, the Elior Group, are known for their restaurants Les Ombres, le Ciel de Paris, La Maison de l’Amérique Latine, and have gone to great lengths to draw up perfect menus. At the bistronomique Etoile restaurant, chef Sebastien Millier and 12 other top chefs from the group’s catering establishments have crafted a gourmet menu for every day.

“Our mission is to showcase and promote French gourmet cuisine to all our customers from around the world,” said Millier.

Millier was in charge of creating the COP21 menus, coordinating the “daily specials” drawn up by the group’s 12 chefs. “We defined our recipes and catering offerings by selecting the best produce from local suppliers,” he said.

“Serving up to 20 000 meals a day is a real challenge at the operational level. We test all the dishes we create for the conference to ensure that it is a culinary success, always in the hope that we will be able to arouse the senses of all those dining in our restaurants.”

Most of the food is produced locally, not only for freshness and high quality but also to keep the carbon footprint of the produce as low as possible.

Of the food served at COP21, 74% is made in France and the bulk of the produce is grown in the Paris region. The meat and fish all hail from France, and the coffee is 100% organic and fair-trade produced.

The caterers believe that choosing quality producets not only ensures that consumers can enjoy tasty and healthy meals, but is also the best way to avoid waste. “The better it is, the less gets wasted,” said Vincent Fellman, Elior's director of the Porte de Versailles and Paris Le Bourget exhibition centers.

All fish served at the conference is rated as sustainable and the group chose the “Bleu Blanc Coeur” label, an association which defends healthy nutrition for animals.

To avoid leftover food waste, the group partnered with an association that redistributes unsold meals to charitable associations in the Paris region. “We believe our job does not end when the plate is empty but extends well beyond the dining experience,” Fellman said.

All waste generated by the COP21 catering venues is sorted into five separate containers for recycling organic waste, plastic and PET products, cans, glass and sundry waste.

Who feeds the delegates?

Fruit and vegetable producer Transgourmet’ Jardins de Pays is one of the responsible fruit and vegetable providers at the conference. Its products are cultivated by farmers in the Paris region in a way that respects biodiversity, and it guarantees optimum product traceability.

Transgourment selects products on three fundamental criteria: production sites must be located less than 200km from outlets, all produce must be in season, and it must be cultivated in a responsible manner.

In addition to Jardins de Pays, food suppliers at the conference include:

  • The St-Malo Compagnie, which sources its peaches from the Ille et Vilaine region
  • The Rosée des Champs vegetable growers in the Val de Loire region
  • Maison Giraudet, which produces dumplings and soups in the Bourg-en-Bresse region
  • La Pisciculture de l’Eure, a Méreville trout farm based in the Essonne region
  • Xavier Dupuis, which sources local vegetables grown in the Yvelines region