A CHAT WITH: GABRIEL GATÉ
Back in 2016, across a series of cold, wintry nights, Adrian and Dean put together what they thought at the time was the most comprehensive, timeless and foolproof guide to Grand Tour watching. In short, they were wrong. Fast forward just a few years and the game has changed that much that a simple guide isn’t going to cut it any more.
So, to elevate their late night experience of snacking and watching a hundred and fifty odd cyclists with single digit body fat percentages battle it out across the French countryside, we consulted arguably the most qualified man in Australia…
He’s been a chef for over 40 years, he’s graced TV screens for almost the same amount of time, Mum’s and aunties have had their heart sent a flutter by his smooth French accent. For the last 15 years he’s hosted Taste Le Tour – an opening segment of the SBS Tour de France broadcast which introduces viewers to the unique regional produce, culture and recipes that the race goes through each year.
First introduced to us when we had to sit early high school French, 2019 marks Gabriel’s last year hosting and producing Taste Le Tour. As such we had to grab the opportunity of chatting to him with both hands. Fortunately, the warmth and friendliness he exudes on screen translates into the real world ten fold – our hour long chat changing everything we thought we knew about late night snack pairings for bike race viewing.
To people who may not know much about it, how would you best describe French cuisine?
There are several styles of French cuisine. First there is French family cuisine which varies depending on family history and background. It is usually simple and passed on from one member of a family to another. There is French regional cuisine which is based on simple techniques using regional ingredients. Each French region has several famous dishes, for example Quiche Lorraine or Beef Burgundy. And then there is French haute cuisine that is sophisticated and requires training and practice. It is the kind that is served in the best French restaurants around the world.
Is there a particular region of France where the food and wine captivates you more than others?
I am fond of many regional cuisines, but I have a special bond with provencal cooking that uses olive oil and the fish and vegetables from the Mediterranean region.
What are some of your favourite examples of French cuisine here in Australia?
Many of the top chefs use French techniques in their cooking. In Melbourne I enjoy Philipe’s Restaurant run by the very skilled French chef, Philippe Mouchel. There are others like Bistrot Guillaume, Bistrot Thierry, and France Soir where the food is authentic.
As for patisserie, there is a number of them. Firstly go to Laurent. He is quite a good baker and a good patissier with a number of shops in Melbourne. There is also a great one in Prahran called La Reverie that is also a good French Patisserie. There is also a few good ones in the South Melbourne market. The level of patissier here in Australia has really improved dramatically over the last 20 years.
• • •
You’ve been a familiar face to SBS viewers since the first Taste Le Tour in 2005. Over the last 15 years have you had to make many changes to how you approach hosting and producing the segment?
Due to our very small production budget, the first three years of Taste Le Tour were recorded from the terrace of a French restaurant in Southbank in Melbourne while from 2008 to 2010 I presented most segments in the French regions visited by the Tour de France.
Most viewers would not know that as well as presenting Taste Le Tour I also produced it over the 14 years. I would start work in October when the route of Le Tour was announced and I researched for months to organise the talents and develop recipes. Then the shoot, usually done in April and May, took two months every year in France, and then almost a month for post production in June just in time for the Grand Départ.
For those of us watching Le Tour at home, what would be your recommendations for late night snacks while watching SBS?
Well I think the easiest answer would be to get some cheese, some nice bread, walnut bread and a bit of chopped fruit and crackers. If you want to stay on the French route there is quiche – whether you buy one from your local bakery or make one at home you can reheat a slice or two as you feel peckish throughout the night towards the middle of the race when you know that nothing too dramatic is going to happen. You could even make some pancakes in advance. Again, very simple and you can heat them up with a selection of jam throughout the night.
Is there a particular recipe from So French So Sweet that you could recommend people try making at home to eat while watching Le Tour?
Well you can of course make a cake for the 14th of July, for Bastille Day. If people are pretty good at making pastry, they can have a go at adding some chocolate and making profiterole with some choux pastry, it’s always very French and super delicious. Again it is something that can be prepared in advance and finished at the last moment. Something along the same line could be the Raspberry Choux Puffs that is good too, but of course I must include the French Apple Tartlet! This is always very popular. French people love apple, they love tarts, they love growing fruit. You know if they have even just a little bit of space in the garden, they will use it to grow fruit. Again, you can make it an advance then when people are ready or the race is quiet you can warm it up again and serve with some sour cream.
Back to the pancake idea is very French and it’s very popular. If you make some for the end of the race and you put them out on the table, then people can garnish them with whatever they like, sweet or savoury.
You mentioned before that French cooking very regional, and very tied to the home. If people wanted to replicate this kind of cooking in their own kitchen, could they easily source authentic ingredients here in Australia?
Yes of course. Authentic sometimes can be difficult, but only for things like wanting to have a particular breed of chicken that you might not be able to get here, or a type of fish, but you can certainly make a Zuppa di Pesce quite easily in Australia if you know and you bother going to a good market where you are going to get a variety of quality fish and try to capture the culture of the dish. That’s what is so important about French cooking, is capturing the culture of the dish. You don’t say “Oh I’m going to put some curry powder in my Bouillabaisse.” You can do that sure, but it’s not going to be an authentic Bouillabaisse.
Even within regional cooking there is a lot of variations for famous dishes like Beef Burgundy. There are some regional dishes that are very difficult to copy because it might require ingredients that might be difficult to get here in Australia, but you could still do hundreds of French regional dishes like you could do hundreds of Italian regional dishes.
• • •
What advice would you have for people looking to level up in the kitchen?
I often tell people you need to increase your repertoire. You need to learn dish, attempt to cook a new dish once a month, then practice it 3 or 4 times so you begin to master it. Cooking it once is not enough to master a dish. Work on learning say around 10 dishes a year – that’s 10 dishes you can master, then over the course of a decade you have anywhere from 100 to 150 dishes you have mastered and can really do well.
The French are quite well known for their generous use of butter. Can there be such a thing as too much?
Yes there can be. Let’s start with the saying of “there’s nothing right and there’s nothing wrong”. The limit for a lot of people is when your doctor says you can’t eat any more butter. I certainly don’t want to be one of those people that are like “you can’t eat this you can’t eat that” because I see lots of people with negative relationships with their food – everything is going to poison them or be a bit too fattening and I think with cooking you need to find a good middle ground, where the line is for yourself and your family. You can make a soup and put a small knob of butter in there and it will make it much nicer, but you certainly aren’t going to put a whole kilo of butter. And then there’s mashed potato, when you’re making it you’ll put a really big knob of butter in it because it makes it super delicious.
You just need to remember that you’re not eating this Monday to Saturday, butter and olive oil are such amazing ingredients, but they can give you such different results. The French they love cooking with butter, or olive oil or even both in some cases. In the south where the cuisine is more Mediterranean you’ll see them use more olive oil, but when you head up to Brittany and Normandy they use a lot of butter. What I do know that is whatever you do, if you put some nice butter on your fresh toast, it is heaven.
What is your favourite dish to make yourself?
A very difficult question, because it depends on the mood and can depend on the season. I love dishes like a Bouillabaisse or Cassoulet, but its also very exciting to make puff pastry. There’s a difference because I could have a favourite dish to make, and a favourite dish to eat, or even something as simple as some French Champagne and some natural Oysters, or a good terrine and maybe a glass of nice Barolo.
The Gabriel Gaté name is one that is highly esteemed – what kind of products, brands and events do you like aligning with?
Every year I get involved as a presenter and guest speaker for many events, including a Tour de France lunch in Melbourne. I also work closely with the river cruise company Scenic, and endorse the brand Blu Pearl couscous.
• • •
Tell us a little bit about your brother François le Gendarme.
My brother François le Gendarme loved cooking and became part of the Taste Le Tour team for his humour and originality. He was sacked from the show for licking his fingers on camera and creating too much mess in the kitchen. He also got so popular that we could not afford him any more.
On your Instagram we can see that you occasionally get on the bicycle – could you tell us about your relationship with cycling?
When I was young cycling was the only transport that my family had. My parents never drove a car. I was a good young cyclist and wish I had more time now and that Australian roads were safer for cyclists. I saw the iconic Eddy Merckx riding in the Tour when it visited my region in the early seventies and it was absolute magic.
• • •
Describe your ideal Sunday:
It probably starts with a walk. I like to walk to a cafe, have a toast, a coffee, read the newspaper then come back home. Some Sundays are spent at our holiday house in Queenscliff which is an ideal Sunday too on the seaside. If the weather is good I’ll go for a swim in the sea. I’ll have a light family lunch and maybe a game of cards in the afternoon. At this time of the year, watch the Tour de France in the evening, and cook a nice dinner with some nice wine before the Tour de France starts. I like to do a mix of looking after my health and fitness and wellbeing.
What is next for Gabriel Gate?
I want to continue to go to France, maybe taking gourmet tours once or twice a year. I think I’ll start that next year or perhaps the year after. It’s fun, it still allows me to discover new regions and new flavours and I get to share what I know. Certainly we will look at the possibility of another cooking show. Taste Le Tour has been the best job of my life, but the shoot took 2 months which was so demanding, and the deadline was tough. It was 3 months of really, really hard work. Exciting, but really hard work. I want to start to slow down, I’ve been a chef for 48 years and I’ve been on television for 40 years, so it’s time to take it easy.
• • •
We’d like to thank Gabriel for taking the time to chat with us, and answer our emails in the lead up. Over the next few weeks we will be documenting our culinary journey blow for blow with the peloton from the kitchens and lounge rooms of Soup Boys and Soup Bæs members. Check out a whole lot more at the link below.