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French chefs cook for Fukushima-hit oyster farmers

Some of France's best known chefs combined forces to raise funds for Japanese oyster farmers whose livelihoods were swept away by the tsunami in March. It was the opportunity to return an old favour.


France’s foreign ministry hosted a 1,000 euro-per-plate dinner on Tuesday evening to raise money for Japanese oyster farmers whose production was ravaged by the tsunami in March. Behind the menu were 11 of the most well known French chefs, many avowed lovers of Japan’s culinary culture.

“We're not here to do a cooking demonstration,” said world-famous French chef Alain Ducasse, explaining the evident absence of Japanese dishes or oysters. “The goal is clearly to raise money. It's a very nice dinner that will bring in significant revenues... for our Japanese colleagues who are facing difficulty.”

The fundraiser was a rare opportunity to see Ducasse, a three-star Michelin Guide rated chef, rub aprons with two-star rated Thierry Marx. However, their interest in participating in the event was unsurprising.

Ducasse, who is known for serving sushi and beef bourguignon under the same roof, said Japan was an example for the world “in terms of healthy-living, culinary harmony and hospitality.” Marx, the culinary director of the Mandarin Oriental Paris restaurant, says he spends three months every year in Japan.

On Tuesday night the two top chefs were cooking for Yasuo Saito, Japan’s Ambassador to France, French minister of solidarity Roselyne Bachelot and around 230 other guests. Attendees included several French industry heavyweights, including Total Oil CEO Christophe de Margerie and Serge Dassault, head of the armaments company of the same name.

Most of the money raised though the fundraiser will go to Japan’s “Grandfather of oyster” Shigeatsu Hatakeyama. “Baby oysters were exported to France fifty years ago from the Tohoku region to save sick French oysters,” Hatakeyama explained. “There is an old oyster relationship between France and Japan.”

Japanese oysters came to France's rescue in the 1960s and 70s after a virus killed most of its oyster population.

Now many oyster farmers from Tohoku and across Japan’s northern coast have been pushed to the brink of ruin as a result of the tsunami and are still facing fuel and cash shortages.

“We can not heal all Japan's wounds in one evening,” said Harumi Osawa who heads the French Food Culture Centre, a group that promotes French cuisine in Japan. But at least French chefs and oyster lovers can return an old favor.

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