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

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Paradei
X
Anush Avetisyan
November 26, 2014 10:57 PM
Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid