Chris Wright

“We were sud­denly rammed af­ter two weeks, with 50 peo­ple in here ev­ery day”

Living France - - Lifestyle - lep­iceriede­di­

In Novem­ber last year, 44-yearold Chris Wright, orig­i­nally from Manch­ester, was shocked when his Can­tal eatery L’Epicerie de Di­enne was named ‘France’s Best Vil­lage Bistro’ by Le Food­ing, an an­nual food and restau­rant guide. Wright ad­mit­ted his ini­tial re­sponse was: “My God, you can’t be giv­ing me an award – I don’t know how to cook!”

Wright fell in love with France and its food dur­ing child­hood hol­i­days. “I re­mem­ber go­ing into ho­tels as a kid and eat­ing lovely pâtés and smelling soup and it was just magic.”

He made a name for him­self at Le Tim­bre, a tiny Parisian restau­rant where, while learn­ing to cook, he tried to re­cap­ture stu­dent mem­o­ries of meals spent with friends in Can­tal. “When I was in­vited round for din­ner there were ef­fec­tively 10 or 12 peo­ple there and I loved that open­ness.

“When I started in Paris, I wanted to recre­ate that; that feel­ing of peo­ple be­ing in­ter­ested and be­ing nice, in a way.”

As Paris grew in pop­u­lar­ity as a restau­rant des­ti­na­tion dur­ing the 2000s, Bri­tish chefs, most no­tably Gor­don Ram­say, be­gan to make a name for them­selves. But by 2014, Wright had tired of the cap­i­tal and turned to the Can­tal de­part­ment he has al­ways loved.

“It just seemed like a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion and although I had sworn never to open a restau­rant again, I obviously didn’t give my­self enough time to think about it be­cause I did,” he says.

Wright orig­i­nally planned to open a gîte: “I re­ally didn’t think the restau­rant would work,” he ad­mits. “Be­cause I had this nag­ging idea I never wanted to be a chef again, it was more likely go­ing to be a gîte with a ta­ble d’hôte restau­rant,” he re­veals. “Maybe, if I was lucky enough, if a few peo­ple came past I’d cook them din­ner.”

The sub­se­quent pop­u­lar­ity of L’Epicerie de Di­enne came as a sur­prise: “It’s gone down a storm and every­one’s been re­ally good about it. We were sud­denly rammed af­ter two weeks, with 50 peo­ple in here ev­ery day and it al­most went back to be­ing like Le Tim­bre,” says Wright.

As time has passed, he has learned to cope with the de­mand, while at the same time forg­ing valu­able re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal sell­ers. “I kept it as low-key as I could and it’s still low-key. I get on re­ally well with all my sup­pli­ers; they’re happy to have an­other cus­tomer and I’m happy to have some re­ally nice stuff.

“The veg­eta­bles in Can­tal start late and you tend to eat a lot of cour­gettes, chard and spinach, but that’s how it is, that’s where we live.”

As the name sug­gests, one cor­ner of the restau­rant is given over to an épicerie ( gro­cery), selling a selec­tion of or­ganic and lo­cal pro­duce, fresh veg­eta­bles, and lo­cal wines and beers.

As for the re­ac­tion from lo­cals, Wright says: “I still get a few back­handed com­pli­ments, along the line of ‘of course you’re busy; you’re the only restau­rant in the val­ley’, that kind of thing.

“You re­ally don’t know what to say to them some­times.”

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