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Stéphane Layani, patron of this year’s Fête de la Gastronomie

Stéphane Layani, CEO of Rungis International Market, talks about his role as patron of the 2017 Fête de la Gastronomie, how he will be getting involved in the event, and what he makes of this year’s theme, “produce in the spotlight”.

What does the Fête de la Gastronomie mean to you? What is its purpose and what impact will it have?

The Fête de la Gastronomie is a nationwide celebration of community, pleasure and joy – everything that goes into making French food culture what it is. It perfectly encapsulates the gastronomic meal of the French, which was added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list back in 2010. It’s not necessarily about what goes into the meal. It’s more about enjoying good company, eating healthy food and building a sense of community. That’s where the Fête de la Gastronomie comes in.


How do you see your role as patron of this year’s Fête?

It’s a real honour to be chosen as this year’s patron. Great dishes couldn’t exist without great raw ingredients. As patron of the 2017 Fête, I want to make produce – and the whole food chain that goes with it – the star of the show. It all starts with farmers and producers. They deserve a lot of respect. It’s a tough task to put food on our plates day in, day out. And of course, there are France’s 23 wholesale markets – including Rungis – as well as retailers, restaurant owners, market traders, and many others besides. The whole chain is built around produce. As a wholesale market, it’s our job to bring prepared produce to our customers.

We tend not to think about produce too often. So the Fête de la Gastronomie is a chance to celebrate the very thing that brings us so much enjoyment, as well as the talented, creative people behind the food we love.


How do you plan to get involved as this year’s patron?

I’m planning to attend as many events across the three-day festival as possible. I want to talk to people – professionals and members of the public alike – to hear their views. I’m also hoping to glean some useful information that I can apply to my role as CEO of Rungis International Market.


What does this year’s theme – “produce in the spotlight” – mean to you?

It’s a vital theme – one that goes to the very heart of what we do here at Rungis. It’s a chance to showcase the sheer diversity of French agriculture and our country’s food industry, and to put the people behind our produce in the spotlight – especially the farmers who work tirelessly to bring us such a wide range of food. We have to remember what an important job they do.


How do you see the link between gastronomy and culture?

Our gastronomy has stood head and shoulders above the rest of the world since the 18th century, when people started writing about French cuisine. I don’t think you can separate gastronomy from food writing – people putting pen to paper to describe what chefs do. Gastronomy is also a cultural phenomenon. It’s part and parcel of French folklore. Our chefs were pioneers in incorporating produce from around the world into our cuisine. That’s what gives our food its universal appeal.


What does produce mean to you, as CEO of Rungis International Market?

For me, produce has to be fresh. It has to be good for you. It has to be steeped in history. And above all else, it has to be wholesome and trustworthy. Produce is also something that brings pleasure and happiness into our lives.


In recent years, French people have started taking a keener interest in high-quality produce, good food and nature. What is your take on our relationship with food?

Here in France, people don’t take food lightly. Our affinity for high-quality produce ebbed away with the rise of mass retail in the 1970s, and as more and more people moved from the countryside to big cities. But times are changing. In the last decade, people have started to look again at where their food comes from. They’re choosing locally sourced ingredients. They want to be certain that they’re eating the very best produce. In the past, the emphasis was on cutting out the middleman. Price was king. That’s no longer the case. These days, less is more. So as our relationship with food changes, it’s vital that people can source ingredients from somewhere they trust – like wholesale markets and other food industry professionals. That’s why markets are so successful. People prefer to shop local. They want to go back to the same butcher and tell them how much they enjoyed the steak they bought last week!


Do you have any particular favourites when it comes to produce?

I’m a big fan of cheese – especially Roquefort, Comté and Beaufort. Veal is my favourite meat. Sea bass is my fish of choice, and I’ll always pick up some red berries from the fruit and veg counter.


Do you enjoy cooking?

I love being in the kitchen. Sometimes it borders on an obsession. I’ll spend a whole day working on the same dish until I get it just right.