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