William Page and team: Agnès and Céline.

An Aussie Chef in France


Pauline Auzou

Australian William Page left Adelaide over 20 years ago, and is now a Michelin-starred chef established in Central France with his own restaurant. The locals are still talking about it...

It is true that if they were doing a market study today about an Australian guy, in the middle of Berry, central France, starting a restaurant… ‘this bloke wouldn’t last 6 months’, they’d reckon.” And yet. William Page, an Australian chef from Adelaide, has been successfully running his restaurant, Le Lièvre Gourmand, for almost 20 years now in Vailly-sur-Sauldre, a little French village between Bourges and Orléans, in the very centre of France.

Page grew up in Papua New Guinea and moved back to Adelaide when his father retired. His childhood overseas drew him to travel as a young man. He lived in Greece, Italy, the United States and Scotland before settling in France 20 years ago.

All his family are still in Australia, but new technologies make the distance less of a problem when it comes to keeping in close touch. “You know Skype? It’s great, it costs zero francs!” Hearing an Australian thinking out loud in francs, almost a decade after the introduction of the Euro, comes as a quirky surprise. But picking up on incurable French flaws, isn’t that the truest sign of successful integration?

The phone is ringing and it’s Page’s brother-in-law. He has a computer problem and he needs advice to fix it. With the phone stuck between his ear and his shoulder, in a very uncomfortable position, Page is trying to be an IT helpline assistant while pouring flour into a huge jar to make the day’s bread. “You know with the daylight saving we only have seven hours and a half difference and it’s bread time here. Can I call you back later on?” While Page tries to handle two tricky situations at once, one of his “Girls”, Céline, is preparing foie gras pralines, a “10-year classic”, painstakingly dipping each of them in a bowl full of a golden mystery liquid. “The secret of the chef!” These little delicacies are to go with billes de chou-fleur (cauliflower marbles) and chantilly aux cèpes (cep whipped cream) as the treats to accompany the aperitifs guests will enjoy in the cosy salon.

Agnès, the other half of his team, is busy laying the tables at the same time. The main room can welcome up to 15 guests while the private room has a capacity of 12. Tonight, it will be all booked out. “It’s going to be sporty!” smiles Page.

Six years ago, he was awarded a Michelin star, a distinction from the most prestigious gastronomy guide in the world. For him, it doesn’t make any difference. “I managed to keep customers coming for 10 years before I got lent the star.” Page says matter-of-factly. “Yes, Michelin entrusts us with this star now but they can take it back whenever they feel like it.”

It could feel like sweet revenge for Page. Twenty years back, he had to face some serious scepticism. He could hardly speak French; he had neither money nor big names on his very brief resumé, but he surely had a strong dose of self-determination and can-do attitude. “It’s funny, it’s like from one day to the next, you go from village idiot to half god. And neither is true. I knew from scratch what I was doing though.” One might expect some local bitterness upon seeing a foreign chef hooking a coveted Michelin star.

Page has been asked a great many times about the possibly tricky position of being an Australian chef in France, official nation of gourmets. “Some people think that cuisine is genetically an exclusive territory for the French, but I am pretty sure that the Chinese and the Japanese think the same. Asian cuisine on one side, Latin on the other. I see what I am doing as a job. If you do it right, with enforcement, there’s no reason it doesn’t work.”

Today, Page has French nationality, talks perfect French with a hint of an Australian accent and can be caught red-handed losing words or even Frenching his words up when chatting in English. “My friends tease me. You start looking for words, using a different syntax. You talk a bit differently obviously.” Still, some Australianess will never fade away even on the other side of the world: “My brother-in-law sends me DVDs of footy games. But only when we win!”

An Aussie Chef in France as published in PDF form