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In May each year, Australian filmmakers head off to Cannes for the film festival; this month, Provence / Côte d’Azur came to Sydney, for an evening of tastes, colours and perfumes of the region, reports Andrew L. Urban.

Petanque, Pernod and the perfume of lavender by the boxload helped transform the ballroom of Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel into a corner of Provence for an evening last week, when the French Tourist Bureau hosted a dinner party for 200 travel and film industry guests, with chef Reine Sammut, the food queen of Provence, preparing the meal.

Film industry guests who travel to Cannes each year for the film festival (or the less famous television markets also held there) were reminded of their lunches at the Cannes beach restaurants with red, white and rosé wines from local producer Bandol.

Planning for the event began a year ago, when the FTB’s Patrick Benhamou placed an order for a special consignment of lavender with growers in Victoria. The flowers formed a ‘welcome avenue’ leading to the ballroom, where local and French travel industry guests drank a variety of Pernod cocktails while watching a round of petanque on two tons of gravel specially laid in the ballroom for the occasion. The gravel was laid inside a wooden frame, which was surrounded by café settings to replicate the mood of a French village square.

Welcoming guests, Benhamou pointed out the irony that Pernod was the invention of a French Doctor called Ordinaire, in the early 1700s, while he was living in exile in Switzerland. (Some of the film people started taking notes so a script treatment might well pop up any day.)

The colours of Provence were represented by tablecloths and hanging drapes from Les Olivades, the traditional makers of the material. 

Reine Sammut pleased palates with a menu featuring olive oil from the region, starting with a tartare of tomatoes, followed by schnapper (with croustillante skin) – and the sublime oil even with the strawberries au poivre à queue. 

"a seductive cuisine, a cuisine of passion, of love"

“I wanted to show a snapshot of Provence cuisine today, which isn’t just Provence… it’s the Mediterranean, North Africa and so on,” said Sammut. She chose schannper because in shape and texture it’s “a bit like dorade royale,” the fish found around the region.

Her restaurant is the Auberge La Fenière in Lourmarin. “My cuisine is not a pejorative ‘women’s cuisine’,” said Sammut, “it’s a seductive cuisine, a cuisine of passion, of love.”

The restaurant, with a few guest rooms upstairs just outside Lourmarin in the Rhone Valley, is a bit too far from Cannes for festival delegates to pop in – but as the festival ends just as the French summer season begins, it is an attractive option for a post festival unwind.

The function, Soirée Provençale, was described by Four Seasons General manager Steve Lewis as “one of the most colourful in Sydney this year.” It was designed to entertain some 60 visiting French travel industry delegates, local agents and a handful of film industry guests who are fans of Provence – all to maintain the profile of the most favoured destination in France for Australian travellers. Indeed, of the world: some 36 million visitors a year flock to the Provence/Alpes/Côte d’Azur region.

Published September 19, 2002

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