Vanessa Botella’s portrait

A combative and committed chef

Coloured scarf in her hair to discipline her brown curls, ring in one nostril, elegant fitted kitchen jacket, Vanessa Botella, shows a serene look: that of the chef who has just delighted 70 people. On the daily menu: seasonal salad, hearty butternut and potato savoury tart and creamy vanilla cottage cheese. A small glass of wine to accompany it all… A tasty meal, with local and seasonal products for barely 4 €, is Vanessa’s daily bet since she took over the reins of the Bistro of Paul Bert Network.

An atypical career path

At 32, the young woman claims an atypical career path. Born into a family of Breton restaurateurs, she helped her parents in the dining room at a very early age… enough to decide to avoid making a career out of it. Attracted to arts and crafts, she trained in sewing, tapestry, decoration and applied arts. She completes her training with a vocational baccalaureat in commerce. At the age of 22 and yet well trained, she struggles to find a job in decoration. To earn a living, she does a myriad of temporary assignments. While she was on a waitressing assignment in the canteen of a large industrial company, the cook was kept waiting. Waiting so long that the pancakes on the menu would not be made unless the young Breton girl, for whom pancakes have no secrets, went into the kitchen. She doesn’t hesitate for a moment and it’s the revelation: “During all my schooling, I’ve been looking for an artistic field in which to reveal myself. With cooking, I had finally found it! ». Vanessa then went on to become a chef. “The job is very masculine. It’s not easy for a woman to be accepted”. However, doors are opening, chefs trust her, she passes her CAP in barely nine months, goes to travel in Laos to think about how she wants to share her conception of cooking.

Healthy, local and seasonal cuisine

On her return to Bordeaux, she works as a volunteer in the Paul Bert Network. The place in the kitchen is taken, so she takes care of the supplies. “I very quickly told myself that it was not possible to have hives on the roof and a vegetable garden in the street and continue to buy frozen foods, industrial products or cans from wholesalers for the bistro. I suggested to the directors that we buy from producers and craftsmen, that we offer local and seasonal products. Vanessa’s sourcing is effective! Impossible to find a plastic bottle or a can at the Paul Bert Space. Syrups are made on site, fresh fruit juices pressed on demand, vegetables supplied by an AMAP (association for the maintenance of peasant agriculture).

Since October 2018, Vanessa has also taken over the kitchen. And since “we hired her to shake up the habits!”, she does it: she introduces vegetarian menus once or twice a week, reserves Wednesday for fresh fish: “it’s the day we have the most children. I pay a lot of attention to the origin and seasonality. Here, you won’t see any Nile perch or Madagascar shrimps! ». Convictions coupled with an acute sense of resourcefulness that comes partly from his experience in Laos, “people there cook with nothing and make crazy dishes!”. Bernadette Lopes, president of the Paul Bert Network, adds: “Vanessa is very invested, she invents with the resources she has and does not hesitate to cook with leftovers. Not only is it good, but it’s a waste-free kitchen”.  

“In this job, you have to be radical”

If Vanessa’s passion and profession is cooking, she likes to remind us that it is also the social and human dimension of the Paul Bert Bistro that touches her, especially the work with her colleagues and the many volunteers, some of whom are volunteers or have real social difficulties. Combative, stubborn, Vanessa sees herself as a “fighter”, especially since she became a mother. “I am proud to have succeeded in gaining respect. In this job, you don’t have to be shy, you have to be radical.” That’s what the young woman undertakes day after day at the Paul Bert Network, while taking some time each year to develop new projects: planting a patch of aromatic herbs in the street that she can use in the kitchen, and launching a program on food on Radio Paul Bert, the center’s radio station. With her strength of conviction, she is sure she will succeed!

Practical information

Réseau Paul Bert

2 Rue Paul Bert, 33000 Bordeaux

Tel +33 (0)5 56 79 20 44

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France

Charline Fournier’s portrait

Cooking : a commitment

At the Estey Social and Cultural Center in Bègles, a town of 27,000 inhabitants near Bordeaux, Charline Fournier has developed two particularly singular initiatives around cuisine: the Bistrot and the Bistrot mobile. Two projects between conviviality and social integration. Because cooking is a commitment.  

With parents who ran a boarding house, there is no doubt that Charline was immersed in the world of catering from an early age. However, when the time came to choose her studies, the young woman, sensitive to the values of solidarity and mutual aid, optes more willingly for the profession of socio-cultural animator. She is particularly interested in popular education and citizenship but also in entrepreneurship. First of all in the Médoc, a rural and wine-growing area of the Gironde, which is prestigious in terms of wines but where the population is experiencing great social and economic difficulties. Charline creates a travelling toy library in the street. “Mobility is ingrained in me. In order to reach people, I have always gone through homelessness and off the streets” explains the young woman, whose other credo is the participation of the inhabitants in the projects. “This has always been close to my heart. I like that people are not mere spectators but actors of who they are and what they do”. 

Food and cooking at the heart of Estey’s social project

When Charline was recruited a little more than eight years ago at the Estey Social and Cultural Center, it was to create a toy library: “I came here for the game” she says with a mischievous look in her eyes. Once the project was on track, Charline, who doesn’t like routine, took two years of availability to create Le Café des familles in Bacalan, a popular district of Bordeaux. This café has the particularity of being mobile so that it can reach as many families in the neighbourhood as possible, as close as possible to where they live. At the same time, she founds the Minidettes, a food truck imagined with a friend. In addition to the daily management of the food truck, Charline discovers a great interest in cooking. 

Two years later, when she returned to the Estey, a bistro was set up there but no one in the team can take care of it anymore. “I was asked if I wanted to take care of it. That’s where the adventure started. I need projects so I don’t get bored, so I put the existing bistro to my liking! “says Charline with the enthusiasm that characterizes her. 

She starts by rethinking the decoration with a group of inhabitants. Fresh and colourful, the bistro now has a little “cosy chic” side that is particularly appreciated by the guests. At the same time, she brings together a group of very active volunteers (there are six of them today) who are interested in a “cooking” project in the social center. She develops an “integration” component by creating two posts intended for people wishing to train and find a job: one as a kitchen assistant, the other in catering service. The values of the restaurant are also those of Charline “solidarity, transmission, mutual aid”. 

Once the bistro is set up and because Charline likes to imagine itinerant projects, she launches a mobile version of the bistro: the famous Bistrot mobile. This street food project, which allows young people who are sometimes a little lost to find their way, is such a success that Charline is already imagining a new stage in the rocket…

Practical information

Bistrot et Bistrot mobile de l’Estey

20 rue Pierre et Marie Curie
33130 Bègles

Tel +33 (0)5 57 35 13 00

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France

Focus : Paul Bert Network

An agro-ecological ambition around food

In the heart of Bordeaux, in a former art deco building, the association Paul Bert Network has become over the years a meeting place between people in great precariousness and inhabitants of the city centre. One of the pillars of this particularly committed social centre: agroecology and good food for all. 

At the corner of Paul Bert Street and Ayres Street, in the heart of historic Bordeaux, stands the imposing silhouette of a beautiful art deco building from the 1930s. Wide bay windows, ironwork entrance door, light installation designed by the internationally renowned visual artist Claude Lévêque… It is hard to imagine that this 1000 m2 building is a social and cultural center. 

The place offers a hammam, showers, a laundry, French and computer courses, public writers’ services, social services, nine very social housing units (including six emergency units), but also – and this is more singular – a bistro, an apiary and even a vegetable garden… Food and agroecology, as well as culture, education, health and social support, have long been at the center of the association’s commitment. 

Beehives in the middle of the asphalt

The most emblematic project in this area is undoubtedly the installation of beehives on the roof terrace of the building. Not without pride, Christophe Philippe, the director, welcomes the first steps of the center in beekeeping. “We had up to six hives, produced up to 180 kilos of honey. Potting was done here at the bar. From the breeding of the livestock to the distribution of the pots of honey, we gradually learned to master the entire production chain! “. 

Setting up beehives in the middle of the city was not a simple matter: “In the middle of the asphalt, in the middle of the dugout, we told ourselves that our bees would have difficulty withstanding the shock… This prompted us to plant the roof terrace with honey plants, vegetables, but also aromatic herbs”. Alas, the beekeeper’s apprentices soon saw the Asian hornets arrive. Far from being discouraged, they immediately looked for an ecological solution. It will be the installation of a rooster and four hens “Black Janzay”, a Breton breed reputed to hunt insects and that the Asian Hornet does not scare! This hen even willingly makes it her meal, catching it with a peck when it is hovering in front of the hives, then beheading it to eat only the body full of protein. Collateral effect of the arrival of a henhouse on the roof? The morning crowing of the rooster does not seduce all the residents. “It opened up dialogue, allowed us to talk about the project. Creating disorder is also part of our methodology,” says Christophe mischievously, before adding that “discontent can also produce solidarity”. 

A vegetable garden in the street

The social center was also confronted to neighbourhood discontent when a vegetable garden was set up in the street, with a few grumpy people preferring to park their cars there rather than see tomatoes and zucchini grow. Tension mounted, the press talked about it, the city council took up the issue and the mayor at the time, Alain Juppé, finally decided: “We’re not going to make a big deal out of this story of tomato plants! ». The lasagnabed, the litter resulting from the fermentation of cardboard, grass, manure and dead leaves, laid on the pavement, can therefore continue to quietly turn into compost and receive new plantings as the seasons go by. 

The kids and inhabitants of the neighbourhood come to glean some fruits and vegetables, a vermicomposter is installed. “With our hundred participants, it has become the last place where we talk. It’s a way for us to reappropriate public space, not to make it our property, but to use it,” says Christophe, who has been dreaming since then of greening no less than the whole street ! 

A popular but luxurious bistro

From producing vegetables on asphalt to setting up a bistro, there is only one step that the Paul Bert Network does not hesitate to take. “It’s important to take people on demanding adventures” says the director of the structure, who is proud to post a “full house” every lunchtime. At the table of the Paul Bert Network, you can eat well, healthy and well-balanced for the modest sum of 4 €. “Here, people pay. They don’t pay much, but they pay. Economic exchange pacifies relations” says Emmanuel Jourdes, the director general, before continuing: “Luxury is important for all social classes. Our concern is to offer the very popular classes food that the bourgeoisie can afford.”

A small team is in charge of this luxury at a reduced price: Vanessa, the cook, and employees and volunteers in the kitchen and on catering service. At the bistro, you can be a volunteer one day and a customer another day, giving your time or bringing ingredients. Vanessa was offered several kilos of quince by a client of the restaurant. Seasonal fruits that she immediately transformed into… the dessert of the day. Emmanuel Jourdes admits to being proud of this project. “It’s a real popular bistro, not made for the poor. The mix is well developed, the atmosphere is family and relaxed. We’ve recreated a village square”. 

Beehives, vegetable gardens, bistro… when asked about the next projects of the Paul Bert Network, he smiles about the creation of an astronomy spot on the rooftop terrace “with his feet in the garden and his head in the stars!”. 

Practical information

Réseau Paul Bert

2 Rue Paul Bert, 33000 Bordeaux

Tel +33 (0)5 56 79 20 44

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France

Focus Refugee Food Festival

When Bordeaux kitchens open up to the world

When restaurants open their kitchens to refugee cooks, the result is the Refugee Food Festival. In Bordeaux, the organizers are looking to register their work beyond this simple media event. They also accompany the integration of refugees, like Fatma Mulai. Originally from Western Sahara, the young woman arrived in Bordeaux in a van with her very young son. She is now an employee of a Bordeaux institution. The story of a particularly successful integration through cooking. 

“I arrived in Bordeaux on March 28, 2016,” the young woman hammers out in French mixed with Arabic and Spanish. She remembers this date as if it were yesterday, she who fled Western Sahara, stayed several years in Algeria, before arriving in Bordeaux after a long and painful journey. “I didn’t know anyone here, I didn’t speak French, my son was two years and four months old, he cried a lot, he was hungry. I went to the COS – Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers – but it was closed. A man offered me accommodation in the Sahrawi camp. We were only three women, it was dirty, I only spent one night there! Only one night! The next day, the COS was open and I was able to apply for asylum”. 

The asylum seeker’s nightmare

With the asylum application filed, Fatma has yet to find a place to sleep. Questionable experiences with unscrupulous people, hotels 20 kilometers from Bordeaux, return to the Sahrawi camp… Fatma has a hard time including to find food, “I begged for the first time in my life”. The CADA (reception centre for asylum seekers) finally find her a room in an apartment in Villenave d’Ornon. The other women come from Albania, Kosovo, Libya and Chad. She stays there for 10 months and her son goes to school. 

In February 2017, a studio in the centre of Bordeaux is found. She moves in, everything seems to be going well, when her request for asylum is refused: “I lived through it very badly, I cried a lot” … But it takes more than that for Fatma to get discouraged, she clings on, explains her situation “to justice” and finally gets a positive response a few months later. 

Now Fatma lives legally in France, she can look for work. Professional chef, she hopes to find a job in her line of work. When she sees the Refugee Food Festival poster, she thinks it might be a lead. Sandrine Clément-Rivoltella, one of the volunteers of the Bordeaux event, introduces her to the managers of Chez Alriq, a famous Bordeaux “guinguette”. The current is flowing and one evening in June 2018, as part of the Refugee Food Festival, Fatma treats 80 people to lamb couscous. 

Once the event is over, Sandrine continues to accompany Fatma in its endeavours. Alriq’s team would like to hire the young Sahrawi but there are no jobs available in the kitchen… except for dishwashing. “It’s a transitional phase, says Cathy, in charge of reception and programming, Fatma works magnificently well and is always in a good mood. It hasn’t been difficult to welcome her because the people who work at Alriq all have very different profiles. We do things together. We help each other out. It’s in kindness that we can work well.” An approach shared by Katy who also works at the guinguette “This is not the first time we’ve hired refugees. Here, it’s a special place, a place where everyone can find their place. This notion of benevolence and mutual respect is at the heart of the project created by Rose and Alriq in 1990”. If Sandrine would have preferred Fatma to find her place behind the stove from the outset, Fatma, she doesn’t complain: she has a work contract, a salary, benevolent colleagues: “I would like to stay here. I am not looking to become rich but to live. Real wealth is life!”. 

The Refugee Food Festival

Beyond the event

The Refugee Food Festival is an event that takes place in June in several European cities at the same time. In Bordeaux, after four successful editions (a total of 14 restaurants mobilized and 18 chefs seeking asylum welcomed), the organizers, all volunteers, are looking to register their work beyond the simple media event. While Sandrine Clément-Rivoltella, the kingpin of the project, brings together restaurants and refugee chefs for the duration of the festival, she is also committed beyond that by following and accompanying the refugee chefs over the long term. Fatma is one of those whom Sandrine has accompanied, as is Jawad, who came from Iraq and is now a cook in a clinic in Bordeaux. 

Practical information

Refugee Food festival

Guinguette Chez Alriq

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France

Focus Courts Circuits

7 family recipes 

A digital and gourmet tourist offer on the right bank of Bordeaux

Creating tourist routes in peripheral urban areas is a relatively new idea. Involving the inhabitants and local structures in the design and animation of these same routes, even more so !

Dive into a new form of tourism with 7 family recipes, one of the three experiments of the Courts Circuits (“Short Tours”) project. 

While the tourist and heritage resources of the city center of Bordeaux are being taken over by the inhabitants, excursionists and tourists, many field actors are wondering how the peripheral areas of the UNESCO World Heritage site could also benefit from a part of this flow. This is the case of the right bank of Bordeaux. Popular and mixed, the towns and districts that make up the bank have long remained off the radar of tourist attraction. It must be said that the image of this part of the agglomeration has not always been good. Marked by poverty, unemployment and a large collective and social housing, this peripheral area of Bordeaux is one of the so-called “sensitive” or “priority” urban districts of the government’s Urban Policy. 

Creating the desire for discovery

In this context, it is not easy to create the desire for discovery… And yet, these territories have resources that are just waiting to be revealed. At any rate, this is what Le LABA is doing with the Courts Circuits (“Short Tours”) project, supported as a social innovation by the Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. 

The objective of Courts Circuits is simple: to build and propose a digital proximity tourist offer on the right bank of Bordeaux. To include this offer in a socially innovative approach, by relying on local associations and structures on the one hand, and artists on the other hand. The former are in the best position to identify and mobilise resources, while the latter are responsible for restoring them in the most unique way possible. 

Very quickly, three tandems were formed to create three atypical courses: Rugby Sound Story imagined between the sound designer Eddy Ladoire and the Lormont – Hauts de Garonne rugby club, The Walk of Samuel J. Lewis created by the author Christophe Dabitch in complicity with two heritage associations of Bassens and finally 7 family recipes designed by the illustrator and graphic designer Guillaumit and Les Gourmandignes (association for the maintenance of peasant agriculture). 

A mobile app for independent discovery, events to get together.

Le LABA ask the three tandems to think about how the routes will be proposed to the public. “The digital dimension was certainly essential for us, but not sufficient. We also asked them to think about collective and shared times for visits and meetings, times between the associations involved and the public,” explains Hervé Castelli, in charge of the project at Le LABA. 

Today, each of the routes can be followed free of charge and independently with a smartphone and by using the Listeners app, an augmented reality sound system developed by Eddy Ladoire. The principle is quite simple. The sounds, music or texts of the course are triggered when you pass close to one of the geolocalized terminals of the route. 

For 7 family recipes, the different stages allow you to discover the architectural, urban, agricultural and natural heritage of the city in connection with the cultural and culinary richness of its inhabitants. All this through stories and recipes. Stéphanie Labadie, cook and sound journalist, worked on the soundtrack, while the artist and graphic designer Guillaumit deployed his geometric shapes, his cartoon spirit and his vitaminized chromatic range to illustrate it. 

After the effort, the comfort

The objective of creating geolocated routes on smartphones achieved, the second dimension of the project still needed to be developed: events to be experienced and shared. Thus, for 7 family recipes, the partners imagined a one-day trip to discover gourmet dishes, inhabitants and unusual places in the city of Cenon. Programmed in advance and on reservation, at the rate of 10 €, this walk in 7 stages and 10 km is done in… 6 hours!  

In this month of July 2019, equipped with good shoes, about twenty participants are ready to take up the challenge. The walk begins on the heights of Palmer Park, which offers an exceptional panoramic view of Bordeaux and the meeting with Rachelle, a shepherdess who grazes her sheeps there. The opportunity to taste in her company chickpea balls with dates and onions, filled with goat cheese and breaded in fine semolina. The walk then continues in a “hidden house” which opens its doors for the occasion and treats you to a vegetarian bite to eat. Then, stop at Zeina the Lebanese with her Fatouche, an incredibly fresh salad. At the Saint-Romain cemetery, discovery of the ajo blanco, a soup with Spanish accents that reminds us how much this community counts here. A change of atmosphere in Nathalie’s agroecological garden, where walkers are treated to zucchini flowers stuffed with aromatic herbs and nasturtium flowers. Then it’s the turn of the Vielle Cure, a former distillery with remarkable buildings. There, echoing some of the 52 ingredients used at the time to make the liqueur, you can taste an Espuma of lemon balm, mushrooms and cinnamon on crackers flavoured with fennel seeds. End of the agapes (and the long walk) in the company of Florence and Lucas who prepared a raspberry shortbread from the garden and an unforgettable verbena ice cream. “The process of connection between people who had no vocation to meet and build together, between associations, artists and inhabitants is exciting” rejoices Hervé Castelli, while the participants, full, exhausted and happy, separate. They all leave with the feeling of having discovered in a particularly singular and convivial way a little piece of territory that was hitherto unknown to them… 

Practical informations

© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France