France Day 3 - Gascogne
Returning to Gascogne feels like coming home. After a week alone on the road it felt incredibly comforting to see the ancient walls of Montreal on the horizon ahead of me. A grueling seven hours in the car and I was finally winding through the rolling hills of the Ténarèze. An euphoric feeling of jubilation began to take hold. It’s not just that I believe Armagnac is the most exciting brown spirit for your dollar on the market today, but also because David and I have built a relationship with this place. We’ve been exploring this area for more than five years and each time, we leave with a resounding feeling that these people have got life figured out. It is not a life is without worry, drama, or sadness. It does, however, feel like they’ve all sort of got this special secret. They can never share it, but when you’re there you can catch glimpses of it. They certainly want you to get it, as if they might lean over and whisper it to you at any moment. To begin to understand it requires persistence, although you can start to feel its presences instantly. Maybe that’s why we keep coming back. Or maybe it’s just this guy…
The Daubin family is an incredible group of people. Their restaurant is an extension of themselves in everyway. Every time we’re there, the entire family is working tirelessly together to create some of the best food I’ve had anywhere in the world. The restaurant is an emotional manifestation of the Chef and his family act as both psychic and physical anchors for its operation. This is why some people hate it while others love it. Some people get it others will never. Often when you speak to locals about it they’ll say, “Chez Daubin? Quand il est en forme, c’est manifique.” Meaning when Bernard is “performing” the restaurant is great, but otherwise maybe not so much.
These people don’t get it. What they don’t get is why they can’t go in and order the dish they liked last time. They don’t get why sometimes they’ll be seated and have several meticulously constructed courses intricately coursed out while other times the service is family style and casual with long periods of time to drink and talk between courses. These are generally the people who don’t really like Bernard anyway, which guarantees that he can’t stand them either.
Bernard is loud, opinionated, and bullish. He won’t hesitate to tell someone they’re wrong or dumb, loves to pick fights, and make fun of people. I will note that his family provide excellent service and attentive service, while Bernard berates his customers –who invariably love it and jab him right back. No matter what everyone in the family is working their ass off. And maybe this isn’t what hospitality is supposed to be –certainly restaurant critics would likely agree that it is about consistency and accuracy, catering to the needs of your customers.
But life is none of those things, family even less so. And this restaurant is truly an extension of those things for Bernard. So if you accept that and embrace it then you realize quickly that you’re not paying a man to eat at his restaurant, but instead you pay a tiny entrance fee to join his family. You pay to sit at his table and accept the uncertainties of family. You deposit trust and withdraw love. And food, delicious delicious food.