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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs