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An American in the French Languedoc

Buffet A Go Go

“You really should try the unlimited access buffet across the border in La Jonquera.”

When a villager passes along a cuisine tip, it is often prudent to pay attention. When the source of a glowing testimonial is Fabrezan journalist and entrepreneur René Baptiste, my curiosity embers are fanned.

René seems to know everyone locally and everything relevant to vineology and regional cuisine. He’s cultivated, blended and distributed wines and aperitifs for decades. He’s speculated in Languedoc real estate before it was fashionable and been hired as a freelance architect without an instant invested towards a university degree.

His culinary credentials are less defined, but as he has just inhaled a second serving of my Veal Milanese, I’ll attest to his palette.

Unlimited access buffets are as American as Elvis Presley, McJumbo portions and hominy grits. Stateside, most all you can eat buffets are overbaked, underflavored and inexpensive. Quality is subservient to quantity.

Overindulgence is encouraged as long as consumption remains within the premises of the feeding space. Carry out sacks and purloined bags of excess food are punishable by mandatory additional servings and a doubling of the admission price. I’ve never seen this penalty imposed however…the doubling of the price.

The sheer volume of consumption should provoke a cry of restraint. Instead, the only apparent cries seem to be for additional refills and demands for third and fourth servings.

Las Vegas, Nevada is the reigning center of the world for unlimited access buffets. Gambling on an empty stomach is a local misdemeanor. Cornering the secondary position is the rest of the collective United States. A distant third is Canada, Mexico and the remaining four continents.

This current pecking order may soon undergo an evolutionary process. René Baptiste and a growing contingent of Languedoc-Roussillon have discovered the beatitudes of gluttony at a fixed priced.

Aside from plentiful, the regional buffet a volonté is flavorful, exotic and varied. The earlier noted La Jonquera buffet features 175+ specialties including steak, shrimp, crayfish, mussels, octopus, squid, pizza, sausage, breaded fish fillets, pruscuitto ham….you get the idea. This exhaustive menu coupled with cheeses, breads, salads, fruits, desserts, beverages, wines, sparkling wine and espresso is offered at 15 Euros per adult and a reduced children’s tariff. My most recent visit noted three additional feeding temples open citywide for public consumption.

Despite its La Jonquera location and necessity for roundtrip border crossings, French touring buses regularly deposit and collect diners en masse. Extended entry lines snake around the restaurant in all climatic conditions. No sacrifice is too compulsory for a legitimate fixed price banquet.

Due to the Catalonia location, one might assume this a predominantly Spanish phenomenon. The dining crowd wedged within however is almost exclusively French. Their joy is infectious and evident. Servers greet you in French even upon an English response. The exhaled cloud of Gaulouses smoke following each assault on dessert confirms French infiltration…just like my Fabrezan.

Languedoc marketers, rarely reactionary in their entrepreneurial response time are not oblivious towards opportunity.

In Narbonne, Espace de Liberté is a food/sports complex successfully offering a competitive alternative. The glass pyramid complex offers an unlimited service buffet boasting 200+ items for only 14.95 Euros, but with menu exclusions. Meat, chicken and fish entrées and beverages must be ordered a la carte. The buffet selection of salads, breads, cheeses, regional dishes and desserts however are ample and diverse enough to arrest the most impatient of hungers.

The buffet is extremely popular and habitually full to capacity. For the sportive inclined, exercise outlets include an ice-skating rink, swimming pool with grandiose waterslides, skateboard park and bowling alley. Okay, so perhaps the bowling alley is more social than physical activity.

It’s simply a question of time and affordable real estate before the locals will integrate le libre buffet as their unique creation. In truth, measuring the buffet to their exacting standards is a legitimate claim to invention.

Marques Vickers

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