Au Fil Des Saison

It’s always wonderful to have an inside connection to some intimate aspect of French life and I was particularly pleased when my friend Jane Rocher invited me to lunch with her at her son Stephan’s restaurant. Jane, who admittedly hates cooking, says she doesn’t know where her son’s love of cuisine came from. Even as a little boy he enjoyed making crepes for the family every Sunday.   Au Fil des Saisons, which translates roughly as With the Passing of Seasons, opened in 2001, and is the culmination of a dream for Stephan Rocher, who at 30, and after studying law, has finally come back to the true love of his life: food. If it shows one thing, Rocher’s restaurant demonstrates just how closely a large city like Paris is linked to the rhythmical movements of Mother Nature. The point of the restaurant, says Rocher, is to follow the rhythm of the abundant fresh markets of Paris, which in turn follow the seasons. “There is no good cuisine without good products,” he tells me, and Rocher combs the Paris markets looking for the best. Twice a week he is up at 4 am to head out to Rungis, the world’s largest fresh food market on the outskirts of the city, and known as the belly of Paris.   Rocher serves traditional French dishes created according to the season and the markets’ offerings, and uses all fresh products, never frozen. “Nothing is processed or industrial in my cuisine,” he explains. He purchases food for three or four days only, and never more than a week. Then comes the preparation. “It’s the preparation that gives the taste,” says Rocher. For example, with his salmon he rinses it, marinates it then smokes it. Rocher changes his menu every day and doesn’t make huge portions. He may make one dish for only four people “and when it runs out, it runs out,” he says. “When you buy things yourself you learn to buy well and you get it cheaper because there is no middleman.”   In the fall Rocher serves a lot of game, such as pheasant. But year round there is the fresh fish, poultry, meats, fruits and vegetables.   Special connection aside, I quickly realized during my lunch that this restaurant was “a find” in the vast and overwhelming world of dining out in Paris. It is difficult to really sample high quality French cuisine like this without paying more. To eat at Rocher’s is to taste a true gastronomic menu at a reasonable price. Which is his goal. The lunch menu is set at 15 and 20 euros, and in the evening the dishes are a step above with menus set at 25 and 30 euros.   I start with a warm, foamy broccoli consommé and a foie gras that melts in my mouth. I follow that with some delightful amuses bouches—avocado puree with its shrimp cocktail, and then comes the sol poele meuniere au romarin. The fish is light and exquisite, floating in its sauce of lemon and butter with a hint of rosemary. Rocher knows his sauces. He did a stint as a sauce chef on a Caribbean cruise ship.   Other delectable looking choices include duck, andouillettes, melon with honey in a crème de mulberry. There is also escargots de Bourgogne au Chablis, which the couple to my left are enjoying, magret de canard in lavender sauce and such delights as pineapple roasted in rum and traditional crème brûlée for dessert.   Au Fil des Saisons lies at number 6, on the quiet rue des Fontaines du Temple in the quaint right bank quarter known as the Marais. The cozy restaurant is just off the bustling rue du Temple in the wholesalers district between the metro Arts et Metiers and Place de la Republique, and occupies the former premises of a 17th century convent turned prison, when its nuns were thrown out during the French Revolution.   Au Fil des Saisons makes its own bread, sorbets and mayonnaise (but of course!) and offers a wide selection of richly brewed coffees from around the world.   It’s backbreaking work, says Rocher, but he’s finally doing exactly what he wants to. And he’s not doing so badly either. Italian author Umberto Eco is coming for dinner on Friday night.   Au Fil des Saisons is closed Sundays. Telephone: 01 42 74 16 60 Eleanor Beardsley is a journalist with a background in television, radio and print media. Fluent in French, she currently lives in Paris, moving there from Pristina, where she was a Press Officer for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo.
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