News / Europe

At Paris 'Beach', a Restaurant Embraces France's Diversity

Flavio Nervegna, left, at Tous a Table restaurant, Paris, Aug. 2013. (VOA L. Bryant)
Flavio Nervegna, left, at Tous a Table restaurant, Paris, Aug. 2013. (VOA L. Bryant)
Lisa Bryant
While new data show eurozone countries like France have finally emerged from recession, many Europeans are still cutting costs and staying home for the summer holidays. But in ethnically mixed northeastern Paris, home to Arabs, Africans and Asians, some of the poorest city residents are getting a taste of vacation - and of champagne, foie gras and other delicacies, for just a few euros.

By midday, the small restaurant overlooking a canal in northeastern Paris quickly fills up.

At a small table, Flavio Nervegna is managing reservations; there are dozens of demands he needs to juggle. Not just from well-heeled Parisians wanting to dine here, but from some of the city's poorest and most vulnerable residents, who will sample fine cuisine for just a fraction of the price listed on the menu.

This restaurant is part of a larger effort that Nervegna heads. Called "Tous a Table!" - or "Everyone at the Table!" - it's a collaboration supported by non-governmental groups, the private sector, French chefs and Paris city hall.  Nervenga says it's about diversity, inclusiveness and democracy - through food.

"The first mission is to open the doors of restaurants that are more and more closed to people with financial difficulties. So we are receiving each day between 12 and 15 people who will pay only 10 percent of their bill…and they come in complete anonimat [anonymously]…Tous a Table is really about putting your chin up.  Here you get dressed [up], you do your hair," said Nervegna.

Nervegna's clientele includes the elderly and the handicapped, first- and second-generation immigrants who are struggling for an economic foothold, and affluent Parisians.

"I had people from the Moulin Rouge coming for lunch yesterday, for example. I had two or three people who are on TV…. also mostly African people, but also lots of Chinese people and also people from North Africa. I have people from Ile Maurice, a lot... It's very nice, because everybody is treated the same way. Tous a Table is about creating mixity [diversity] in restaurants," he said.

It's a diversity reflected in this working-class neighborhood, known as the 19th arrondissement. It's here where Tous a Table has set up its summer restaurant as part of the city's larger "Paris Plage" (Paris Beach), offering faux beaches, water sports and dancing for residents.

The tough economy has taken its toll. Polls suggest half all French are cutting costs and staying home this summer.

Nervegna's restaurant not only offers fine dining for the disenfranchised, but also jobs. Ethnic Tunisian Lionel Hagege is one of the casualties of the economic crisis.

Hagege says he's been unemployed for several years until he landed a summer job at Tous a Table. He hopes it will lead to longer-term work in the restaurant business.  
By mid-afternoon, the restaurant has a new clientele: a group of children wearing blindfolds who are trying to guess the fruits and vegetables they are tasting - produce that their parents cannot always afford to buy.

Eight-year-old Arnaud Arasakesary, from Sri Lanka, says figuring out what he is eating blindfolded is difficult.

But there's another goal, says Antoine Aubard, whose foundation, Simply, is backing the effort: the tastings also teach young kids about good eating habits.  

"Some haven't even tried fruits and vegetables, even if they can afford it, because they're parents aren't buying them or they're too young to know them, they've never tried them," said Aubard.

Star French chefs have also pitched in, hosting cooking workshops at Tous a Table, like one with African women, to prepare an upscale version of West Africa's staple mafe peanut dish with plantain chips.  

"Women that are alone most of the time, with difficult stories," said Flavio Nervegna. "And they come, between 10-15 people, and they create the plat du jour [daily special] with the chef that we serve the whole day. And they come afterwards to eat it around the table."

The menu one recent night included grilled vegetables, French cheeses, salmon pasta and a chocolate dessert. The food was delicious. It was impossible to tell whether my fellow diners were rich or poor. And that, of course, is the goal.

"The values of an association like Tous a Table and the values of cooking are very similar. It's really about sharing, it's about transmitting [know-how]," said Nervegna.

Holidays are almost over, and the restaurant closes this weekend. But the larger Tous a Table project continues. Nervegna is planning monthly dinners for the disenfranchised in top restaurants, and a huge gala dinner next June.  The goal is the same: bringing a cross-section of France around the table to share good food and good times.

You May Like

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid