By David Sly
There’s nothing so sensual, so essentially French as indulging all the senses around the finest food, wine and music.
This is why Valerie Henbest, proprietor of the Adelaide Central Market’s Smelly Cheese Shop, has created special events for the 2019 Adelaide French Festival, pushing boundaries with innovative creative concepts that combine multiple art forms with culinary pleasures.
As part of the French-accented cultural festival being held in and around the Adelaide Festival Centre from January 11–13, Valerie is curating Sonic Seasoning on January 13, teaming a performance by contemporary Adelaide string ensemble Zephyr Quartet with a structured champagne and cheese tasting on the Dunstan Playhouse stage, to test whether music can heighten appreciation of fine wine and cheese.
“I’m so passionate about exploring food sensory experiences, so I want to test the relationship between the five senses and fine food through a musical journey,” says French-born Valerie.
“It’s an event that will allow people to get maximum pleasure from a tasting masterclass, so they truly remember a magical experience.”
Valerie has also created Le Salon for the Adelaide French Festival with the State Opera, featuring music by 18th century French composers while she instructs the audience how to best enjoy cheese, champagne and chocolate.
“I want to revisit the fantastic possibility that the 18th century Paris salons presented in creating a diverse cultural hub, but with 21st century influences. I see this as a way to reconnect people – as a way of getting people to stop hiding behind their screens.”
These shows are an example of how the Adelaide French Festival – created by the Adelaide Festival Centre and presented for the first time in 2018 – is growing for its 2019 program, and providing a springboard for creativity in how it presents aspects of French culture, and Adelaide’s connection to it.
The three-day program presents an eclectic mix of music, theatre, dance, food, wine, art, fashion, film and family activities.
Adelaide French Festival creative director Beck Pearce says it’s an important cultural signpost for Adelaide, which is forging many strong ties to French industry, triggering a recent influx of French families living in Adelaide – which has ensured a strong family and children’s components to the festival program.
“We want the widest possible reach, so we have encouraged creativity in building a very diverse and eclectic program,” she says.
“And that means there is something for everyone within this festival.”
Affordability is key, and food and drink is integral to the mix – such as the Junior Sous Chef classes allowing kids to enjoy a hands-on pastry cooking class with Le Cordon Bleu pastry chef Jenni Key at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Star Kitchen and Bar.
At the top end of culinary treats, chef Nathalie Beauvais, hailing from the restaurant Le Jardin Gourmand in the Brittany port town of Lorient, is presenting a special French cooking class featuring the flavours of Brittany, and an extravagant seafood feast with SA ingredients.
Local businesses are plugging into the festival program, none more enthusiastically than Dominique Lentz, the French owner of Adelaide small bar La Buvette. He’s presenting four short events on January 13 – French Spirits Masterclasses hosted by Mikael Gillard, and two novel sessions on the art of French flirting and seduction.
Within the festival’s music events, Adelaide musicians are showing great creativity. Percussionist Jarrad Payne and jazz violinist Julian Ferraretto are doing live accompaniment to a vintage Georges Méliès film, A Trip to the Moon, at Nexus Performance Space on January 13.
Jarrad is also part of the Piping Shrike Brass Band, a raucous nine-member New Orleans-inspired marching jazz ensemble, led by brass virtuoso Adam Page, performing at the Space Theatre on January 12.
There’s even a mini festival within a festival, with one-day pop music garden party So Frenchy So Chic being held on the Torrens riverbank at Pinky Flat on January 11, featuring French pop starlets Camille, Yelle, Clara Luciani and Clea Vincent.
Organiser Jean-François Ponthieux has been presenting events under the So Frenchy So Chic brand in Australia for 15 years – initially in Melbourne, then Sydney – but brought his outdoor festival to Adelaide for the first time in 2018, and is delighted to be working in partnership with the Adelaide French Festival.
“It’s the perfect setting to be showcasing the best of what modern French pop music has to offer right now,” says Jean-François. “I have a taste for French music as others have a taste for fine pinot noir, and I want to share my discoveries.”
It all underlines strengthening ties between Adelaide and France, especially since the SA Government officially opened an SA office in Paris in September 2017.
Connections are not only being made in culture, food and wine (such as Adelaide joining Bordeaux as a member of the Great Wine Capitals), but also in industry, research and education – from submarine and warfare destroyer construction, to an Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge, and Flinders University’s growing ties with scholarships and research partnerships in France.
“This festival makes a big cultural statement – and it’s an idyllic way of introducing a wider audience to all that French culture has to offer,” says Bec Pearce. “It’s going to be delicious fun.”